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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Unsafe at school

Abigail Zwerner, 25 was shot in the hand and chest while teaching elementary school.

Angry teachers in Newport News, Virginia blame lax discipline for a 6-year-old shooting his first-grade teacher, write Ben Finley and Denise Lavoie for Associated Press.

During a three-hour school board meeting, "teachers and parents said students who assaulted classmates and staff were routinely allowed to stay in the classroom with few consequences," they report. "They said the shooting of Abigail Zwerner could have been prevented if not for a toxic environment in which teachers’ concerns are systemically ignored."

“Every day in every one of our schools, teachers, students and other staff members are being hurt,” high school librarian Nicole Cooke told the board. “Every day, they’re hit. They’re bitten. They’re beaten. And they’re allowed to stay so that our numbers look good.”

That morning, Zwerner told an administrator the boy had threatened to beat up another child. They did nothing. Another teacher, tipped off that the boy had a gun, searched his backpack. She didn't find a gun, but told administrators she thought the boy might have put the gun in his pocket before going to recess. According to Toscano, the administrator said, "Well, he has little pockets." After recess, a third teacher told administrators that a student had said the boy had shown him the gun at recess and threatened to kill him if he told anyone. As before, they did not call police -- or even the child's parents. Finally, a fourth employee asked for permission to search the boy and was denied, the lawyer stated. That employee allegedly was told to “wait the situation out because the school day was almost over.”

The superintendent was fired and the school's assistant principal has resigned.

Last week, a fight at Boston's Latin School sent an eighth-grade girl to the hospital reports Live Boston 617. She'd apparently been stabbed or slashed at what's considered one of the city's top schools.

East Lansing (Michigan) High students held a "stop the violence" rally on Thursday.

An East Lansing (Michigan) high school was closed Friday due to "threats of violence, following a week of unrest," reports Janelle D. James in Bridge Michigan. "School officials have struggled to find a balance between increased safety and trying not to turn schools into prisons," she writes. During a Jan. 19 fight after a basketball game, a student accidentally dropped a gun in front of a teacher. “The degree of permissiveness our district demonstrates with regard to student discipline has become completely untenable,” said Timothy Akers, a high school English teacher, during a school board meeting.

Schools are under pressure to take a harder line on student discipline in response to a surge of student misbehavior, report Annie Ma and Finley.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia passed legislation calling for a "restorative" rather than punitive approach to students who act out. The goal is to address the root cause of student misbehavior, resolve conflicts and reconnect disruptive students to the community.

But it's hard to make it work.


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