Teacher Safety Is School Safety
The Colorado Department of Education annually records the number of serious behavioral incidents by students that occurred on school or district grounds. Individual school reports can be found on SchoolView.org. Similar practices have been adopted in many other states, and although these incident reports are valuable, in the vast majority of states they do not include a separate category that catalogues student assaults or physical attacks against teachers or other school employees.
As discussed in Jake Fegan’s Op Ed in The Complete Colorado Page Two, the National Teacher and Principal Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reveals that 220,300 teachers across the United States reported being physically attacked by a student during the 2015-2016 academic year. Though the study may well be accurate, the fact that survey results are the only nationwide numbers available when it comes to teacher safety goes far to underscore the need for the public reporting of incidents of violence committed against school employees.
Data on student-on-teacher violence is collected and reported in at least seven states. In Nevada, for instance, the state Department of Education provides reports on assaulted school employees on its website. “Violence to school staff” is a category incorporated into the state’s accountability report card under the “discipline” subheading. This data can be displayed for each school, district, or for the entire state.
Similar reporting practices could potentially be employed in Colorado. Currently, school staff that have been assaulted are already required to report the assault to the school district administration who then report such incidents either to law enforcement or the local district attorney.
Physical attacks on teachers are in fact a problem that needs to be addressed, and in order to develop a solution to this issue the public and lawmakers of our state ought to have access to reliable statistics that could allow them to truly understand the scope and nature of the problem at hand. As Dorothy Espelage, a psychologist working on youth aggression at the University of Florida, stated in an interview with NEA Today, “any comprehensive examination of school violence must include violence directed at teachers” because if we continue to underrepresent this issue it “won’t translate into better pre-service training, professional development for teachers, more support from administrators and other measures that can be taken to address the issue.”