Academics say some improvement was expected, as many students are dealing with higher stress, isolation and mental health needs this past year. Grief still lingers in the lives of many students: An estimated 200,000 children and adolescents in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver to Kovid since the outbreak began.
“We knew the kids would carry ridiculous amounts of stress and trauma,” said Katie Defarari, assistant superintendent of climate and culture at Jefferson County School in Kentucky. “I don’t necessarily think it’s all manifested in classroom acting or aggressive behavior. The kids were usually trying to adjust back to school. I think they did better than everyone else thought. “
The results of the new national survey are reinforced by behavioral and disciplinary data obtained by Chakbit from 19 of the country’s 30 largest school districts through requests for open records and a review of publicly available documents.
District information is also different. Several large districts have reported an increase in student fighting this past year, although the size has changed from a significant spike to a small increase.
For example, Duval County schools in Florida reported a 47% increase in violations for combat compared to the 2018-19 academic year – the latest that was not affected by the epidemic. In North Carolina, student fights at Charlotte-Mecklenburg School increased 26% over the same period. Fighting has increased by 20% in the Northside School District of Texas. In Hillsborough County and Polk County, Florida, student fighting increased 17% last year compared to the previous year of the epidemic. (In the case of Polk County, it was one month left of school.) Meanwhile, fights at Decallub County School in Georgia increased by about 7% over the same period.
But other districts have seen fewer student fights. By the end of April, each school in Dallas and Houston had a sharp 62% reduction in fighting compared to the 2018-19 school year. With two months left in school, student struggles in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district of Texas have more than halved in the same period. And in Jefferson County, Kentucky, student fights were 42% lower during that time, a month to go to school.
In New York City, the country’s largest school district, student quarrels and fights were 27% lower than in the 2018-19 school year, where one month had to go to school, officials said. Still, some schools have struggled.
Robert Effinger, who teaches 10th grade history at a Bronx high school, says physical and verbal fights at his school have increased, although physical conflicts have become less frequent as the years go by. He thinks most of the initial conflict arose when students tried to establish their place and social circle in school after being separated for so long.
In his view, students had an even bigger problem of cutting classes or arriving late. And there were other obstacles, such as students shouting across a classroom. A big driver of that behavior, Effinger said, was that some students were struggling with their work.
“They don’t want to embarrass themselves, so they will work,” he said. “This year it has happened in a decent amount.”
And although her school has added a counselor this year, students often leave without the mental health support they need. “I’ve mentioned a few students for counseling and there’s no counseling slot,” Effinger said. “It’s good, what shall we do?”
Ashley Lorenko, a rising 10th grader, estimates that there were five fights at her Magnet High School in Newark, New Jersey last year, where fights are usually rare. There was only one previous year that he could remember. He also noticed that students joked on social media that could be interpreted as a threat, and that his classmates were even more advanced when they returned from distance learning.
“People are under a lot of pressure,” he said. “Mental health is a fairly common problem among people I know.”
More detailed national data released last week shows that in the decade leading up to the epidemic, schools grew safer in many ways, with students experiencing fewer incidents of crime and violence – except for school shootings between 2009 and 2019. These figures further decreased in 2020 as students learned from home.
Since some schools have seen fights and chaos again last year, they have reacted in different ways.
Some have tended to remove students from school more frequently. Out-of-school suspension in northern schools has increased by 15% this past school year compared to the 2018-19 school year. During the same period, out-of-school suspension increased by 9% in Hillsborough County.
Elsewhere, suspensions have dropped despite an increase in student misconduct. Duval County, for example, has issued 500 fewer suspensions this past school year than in the 2018-19 school year, a decrease of about 2%.
Nationwide suspensions were low before the epidemic began, as states and districts passed policies limiting their use. Studies have shown that black students, in particular, are inconsistently suspended from school, and that suspension can lower students’ test scores and reduce their chances of graduating.
As an alternative, many schools are leaning towards less disciplinary forms of discipline, such as talking about student conflicts or engaging in counseling. These strategies have been tested during the epidemic and in some places academics have called for a return to more disciplinary discipline.
Nevertheless, many districts have adhered to those practices.
Jefferson County official Defarari said his district put more emphasis last year on ensuring schools were not using suspension as punishment when student abuse arose from trauma or an adult contributed to the situation with their own response.
The district has hired more behavioral analysts who can be sent to the school to find out what is forcing a student to work. The team has risen from three to 10 last year and will remain at number 16 in the upcoming school year.
The district’s suspension rate has dropped, and by the end of April, officials had given 15,000 fewer suspensions, compared to just 20,000 in the 2018-19 school year.
It’s about “really helping schools and administrators understand that kids won’t be able to communicate with you if they are upset until they are calm and de-scaled,” Deferri said. “If you can get rid of those little headaches – that’s what gets people in trouble – then you’ll get rid of the problems.”