Why school leaders ‘need help’ in the fight against student behavior

"We don't feel safe. Faculty doesn’t feel safe... if parents knew how unsafe the inside of the school is, they would be upset," one teacher told KPRC 2.

Since the start of the school year, the teen mental health crisis has proven itself evident as principals and educators face the brunt of student misbehavior. Needless to say, they need help.

Student behavior in schools has made headlines in recent months across several states, and lawmakers are taking action. Most of the conversations surround how to ethically discipline students who cause disruptions.

Kentucky passed a bill last month that seeks to empower teachers by giving them the ability to take immediate action to dismiss out-of-control students from the room. Lawmakers said it’s not meant to increase school suspensions. Instead, it gives educators and students the learning environment they deserve.

“The bill will make public education better,” Republican Rep. Timmy Truett told AP News.

But the issue persists in schools across the country.

This month, principals in Portland, Oregon issued a letter to Portland Public Schools’ leadership expressing their concerns surrounding student behavior in their middle schools, Oregon Live reports. According to the letter, sixth through eighth graders caused more discipline problems through the end of March than the entire 2021-22 school year. Incidents include disruptive conduct, harassment among students surrounding race, disability and religion and physical altercations.

In response, they’re asking district leadership to recruit at least 15 full-time employees who would specifically address student safety, mental health and alternative solutions to school discipline to mitigate suspensions.

“We need help,” one middle school principal told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The things I worry about as a building administrator are issues of mental health and anxiety that are exacerbated by interactions with kids at schools. Microaggressions towards students are something that we are problem-solving all the time, along with threats of violence and actual fighting.”

Other states are facing similar issues. A student-led mob at Westfield High School in Texas left an assistant principal hospitalized after being beaten up by students. According to school staff, it’s simply an unsafe environment.

“We don’t feel safe. Faculty doesn’t feel safe… if parents knew how unsafe the inside of the school is, they would be upset,” one teacher told KPRC 2.

With student disciplinary issues on the rise, school leaders and administrators should reflect on their school’s policies and ensure they’re effectively communicated to their students and staff.

The Education Trust, an equity-driven organization that seeks to improve policies and practices in education, recently published a report detailing how poorly designed discipline policies can impact its students, such as increased expulsion rates. According to the report, there are seven ways leaders can improve their school’s discipline policies:

  1. Establish clear goals for decreasing the use of exclusionary discipline and minimizing disparities in discipline.
  2. Offer technical assistance for improving discipline practices by providing human resources within the state education agency.
  3. Ban corporal punishment and limit the use of restraints. Communicate who and when such practices should be implemented.
  4. Do away with zero-tolerance policies and exclusions for non-violent offenses.
  5. For state leaders, provide school districts with guidance on how to adopt positive discipline policies and practices, such as restorative justice solutions and student-centered codes of conduct.
  6. Offer evidence-based guidance and funding for professional development in this area.
  7. Publicly report district-level data on categories of offenses and punishments. This information should be disaggregated.

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Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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