School shootings were just a part of the increased violence that is happening in schools across the country. When this school year began at San Francisco’s Everett Middle School, expectations were high after spending a year in distance learning due to the nationwide pandemic.
Yesi Castro-Mitchell was a computer science teacher ready to welcome her students back for their sixth-grade year. One of those students came into class and started punching her over and over again.
The students sat frozen as she was being pummeled. Castro-Mitchell received a concussion, a dislocated jaw, a broken tooth, and hearing loss in her left ear. She wears a hearing aid now.
This is just one story from schools across America that experienced one of the most violent ever. Some experts track school behavior that indicates aggressive behavior has increased across the nation.
As students begin their summer break, schools are trying to cope and begin planning how to fix what has become broken.
Cris Garza, a teacher at Everett for eight years and the representative of the teacher’s union, said that this year’s problems were no different than before the pandemic, but they were certainly greater in “severity, intensity and frequency.”
According to teachers and parents, there were fights among students almost daily. One of those fights left a student in the hospital for two days. Some days, packs of students would barge into a classroom, stop the teaching, and destroy school property.
Psychologists explain that the pandemic contributed to the increased aggression in schools. There has been a surge in mental health issues among students due to trauma at home and a decrease in socializing. This has been compounded by a shortage of teachers and counselors.
Sharon Hoover is the co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She said, “Without doubt, we are hearing across the board that schools are experiencing significantly more crises related to school violence and emotional behavioral crises.”
If schools don’t work on finding answers, Hoover believes this will continue in the fall when classes resume.
One of the nation’s largest school districts in Las Vegas, Clark County, is going to provide teachers with panic buttons because of the increased violence. In April, a teacher was attacked and left unconscious in her classroom. The police chief in that district said last year was the busiest in his department’s 40-year history.
Sharon Hoover believes that the pandemic took away the structure in students’ lives and they were isolated from their peers. Schools are now trying to look at the underlying causes of the violence and bring in people to address these issues with their students.
One school in Anaheim, California has hired a specialist in restorative justice which focuses on mediation over punishment. They also opened a “relaxation room” where students could talk to a mental health counselor. They say that they saw a huge decline in fights and discipline issues.
One student said, “The room would give us a break from everything. When we were stressed out about school, we would just go to that room. There was someone to talk to, there were snacks, there were fidget toys, and card games. We could relax, then go back to class and continue our day.”
At Everett, the district hired another security guard and increased substitute teacher coverage. They also required students to lock up cellphones during class.
In the new school year, they will open a wellness center funded by a grant. They will have an onsite therapist with other staff to deal with the social and emotional needs of the students. They believe they can provide more consistency and stability for the students.