Editorial: Akron Public Schools should work on violence prevention, expel kids who attack staff


A recent editorial by the Akron Beacon Journal:

Fear is replacing joy in some Akron school buildings.

The return to in-person classes amid the COVID pandemic has been welcome. But some young people are out of control, as reports of fights, guns and assaults on teachers have risen.

In one of the first public acknowledgments of trouble, new Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack sent a message to parents early last month that vandalism and conflicts between students have grown because of “inappropriate and disrespectful” goading on social media. Other schools around Summit County and the nation reported similar problems because of TikTok “challenges.”

Then, we learned a teacher suffered a broken nose trying to break up a fight at Kenmore-Garfield high school. A Ritzman elementary school teacher was punched when she turned her back. A gun was found in a student backpack at Kenmore-Garfield.

For almost two years, health care workers have fought on COVID’s medical front; now educators are caught in a different battle possibly tied to stresses from the pandemic.

Academic performance has been hurt in Akron and elsewhere, according to state data. Students who fared poorly because of online-only learning and such difficulties as family illness and joblessness have much catching up to do.

Violent episodes, even though they stem from a small percentage of students, put learning on hold and make everyone feel less safe.

Fortunately, the Akron administration is taking time to sit down with the teachers union and listen to concerns about assaults. But much more must be done, and we urge the administration and school board to involve parents, students and the community in finding solutions.

This is a complex problem; keeping kids and staff safe must go beyond adding metal detectors and armed guards.

First, students must understand there is a line they can’t cross. Putting hands on a teacher should be grounds for expulsion. A counselor at Kenmore-Garfield, however, said expulsions rarely happen and often are not given for assaults on teachers.

Also concerning: An elementary teacher at Ritzman says she was punched in the spine by a student who had just returned from a suspension for assaulting a teacher. That incident further reveals that some students are not appropriately placed into a supportive environment after their return from suspension.

This is when assisting teachers is crucial. Is the district fully staffed with substitute teachers, teaching assistants, counselors and others so that teachers don’t have extra duties added to their days? Are class sizes manageable?

Also key: APS must ensure it is following its guidelines on disciplinary issues or update those rules. Administrators must stand up to angry parents and remove violent students.

$96 million to flow to Akron Public Schools

Many proposed solutions to school problems will cost money. APS is receiving $96 million in federal stimulus funds meant to help kids catch up after the last academic year’s disruptions from COVID-19.

Some of the funds could be key in preventing violence. Spending on mental health support, academic interventions and teacher training could help lift up kids. We must ensure troubled students receive proper monitoring and instruction.

In Detroit, the school district is spending $34 million on such mental health initiatives as screening students, contracting with more mental health providers and offering extra support to parents, the Associated Press reports.

School districts worry, however, about federal funds drying up after three years.

That’s why Akron must start good programs now. There might be nonprofit groups that later could take over intervention programs and training on good citizenship.

Some low-cost programs could rely on volunteers. Neighborhood dads in Shreveport, Louisiana, and elsewhere are patrolling the halls and reminding high school kids to “straighten up and fly right.”

It’s clear that children need good role models. The place to start, of course, is with parents and guardians; too many are disrespectful of school staff.

Akron is not unique in experiencing violence – some 6% of U.S. teachers report being physically attacked by students, according to a federal agency.

Those teachers deserve our full attention. And the kids who want to learn and follow their dreams must see that we are doing our best to prevent violence.

— Akron Beacon Journal, Nov. 14

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