Students at Maury County Public Schools are acting out and school leaders are blaming the interruptions in learning and general uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic.
This school year, at least 40 citations have been issued to students at Columbia Central High School, including seven students arrested and placed in juvenile detention, according to Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland, who shared the information with members of the county commission, during Wednesday's health and environment committee meeting.
The situation reflects a national trend as interruptions caused by the pandemic have sparked a rise in students and young people struggling to retain their mental health.
Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Hickman spoke before county leaders, stating that this year’s rise in students acting out is a long-term consequence of the pandemic.
“Kids need to relearn school again,” Hickman said. “They are having to relearn how to act in school, and it is causing a lot of frustration.”
Hickman stressed that many of the school district’s pupils continue to struggle to make the transition back into the classroom after nearly two-years of intermittently learning from home.
Rowland, who oversees a team of more than 20 school resource officers responsible for protecting and policing the school district’s more than 12,000 students, shared a similar viewpoint.
“It is taking some time for them to get adjusted to being in the classroom,” Rowland said. “There are discipline issues that need to be dealt with on a daily basis. There has been a lot of fights and things like that. I will tell you, nothing has changed as far as the sheriff’s department and new business.”
Vandalizations sparked by social media
Maury County Assistant Superintendent of Families Eric Perryman explained that students have participated in group vandalizations of school restrooms and classrooms inspired by posts shared on social media.
Rowland said he has seen the same trend.
“It is silly, and it is foolishness,” Rowland said. “We hand out kids to the world with these devices.”
Schools react with an increased police presence
Perryman said the recent uptick in infractions also corresponds with a tightening of the presence of school administrators and SROs.
“We drove home some points and took some kids out,” Perryman said. “Some of those things are hard to prevent with anything other than a show of force.”
An additional permanent SRO has been assigned to both Spring Hill High School and Columbia Central High School.
Perryman explained that an increase in diversified hires has created an opportunity for the department to reach out to students, giving them a chance to be guided by a more ethnically diverse group of officers.
The school district also has its own trained police dog used to detect the presence of drugs as well as make educational visits at the district’s elementary schools.
A local legacy of school safety
Historically, Maury County Public Schools is recognized across the state for school safety after setting new ground as one of the first school districts in the state to have an SRO stationed at each school campus.
The decision was partly inspired by events that occurred at Richland High School in neighboring Giles County.
James Ellison “Jamie” Rouse, a 17-year-old senior at the time, entered Richland High School on the morning of Nov. 15, 1995 and opened fire with a .22 caliber Remington Viper shooting teachers Carolyn Yancey and Carolyn Foster.
Foster was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, while Yancey survived.
Student Diane Collins was also killed by Rouse after he attempted to shoot a football coach but missed, instead striking the student.
Rouse was convicted as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He received additional time on attempted murder charges. He is serving his sentence at the South Central Corrections Facility in Clifton.
As the school year continues Rowland, stresses that despite the pandemic, the best place for the county’s young people to be is in school as the nation continues to struggle with a continued rise in mental health issues among young people.
“We saw such an uptick in attempted suicides and successes when they were out of the classroom when schools were closed,” Rowland said. "COVID or no COVID, they have to be in the classroom.”
Reach Mike Christen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeChristenCDH and on Instagram at @michaelmarco. Please consider supporting his work and that of other Daily Herald journalists by subscribing to the publication.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Discipline dominates concerns at Maury County Public Schools