The first week of school was supposed to mark a triumphant return to classrooms at San Francisco’s Everett Middle School after more than a year of distance learning.
But as computer science teacher Yesi Castro-Mitchell welcomed a class of sixth graders last fall, a student started punching her, again and again.
Castro-Mitchell wrapped her arms around her head and hoped for the blows to stop. She remembers the stunned silence in her classroom as other students witnessed the assault. The teacher suffered a concussion, a dislocated jaw, chipped teeth and hearing loss in her left ear that now requires a hearing aid.
Across America, one of the nation’s most difficult academic years was also one of the most violent. Experts who track school behavior nationwide said fights and other aggressive behavior, including shootings, appear to have increased. Now, with students heading out on summer break, schools are taking stock of what went wrong and how to fix it.
At Everett, many of this year’s problems were no different than before the pandemic, but “they were absolutely greater in severity, intensity and frequency,” said Cris Garza, a teacher at Everett for eight years and the teachers’ union representative.
In addition to the attack on the teacher, fights broke out almost daily among students, according to several teachers and parents. One brawl left a student hospitalized for at least two days. In other incidents, packs of students would barge into classrooms, disrupting lessons and sometimes destroying school property.
Educators and psychologists say the pandemic contributed to the volatility in schools by causing a surge in student mental health problems, trauma at home, a lack of socializing opportunities, and a shortage of teachers and counselors that reduced adult supervision and guidance.
There is no national data that tracks school fights and assaults, but education officials across the country say violence erupted more often and more fiercely.
“Without doubt, we are hearing across the board that schools are experiencing significantly more crises related to school violence and emotional behavioral crises,” said Sharon Hoover, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The same issues are likely to resurface in the fall, she said, if struggling adolescents don’t get the help and structure they need.
Students at Everett felt the pandemic’s effects acutely. About 70% of the school’s 600 students are Latino, many are English learners and most are economically disadvantaged. Many lost parents or grandparents to COVID-19 or lost their homes because families couldn’t pay rent, said school social worker Bridget Early.
Castro-Mitchell said nobody warned her that her attacker had a history of behavioral problems. After the assault, the teacher transferred to another school but left before the end of the year as she struggled with PTSD.
Several Everett staff members complained that a pandemic rule intended to improve air circulation had the unintended effect of inviting misbehavior. Teachers were not allowed to close and lock classroom doors, and groups of students who skipped class would roam the halls and burst into other classes in session.
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Source:: Headlines News4jax
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