Schools saw increase in student aggression last year

·3 min read

Jul. 17—Valley school officials are preparing to welcome students back into the classroom next month and some hope the start of the 2022-23 school year isn't as violent as the last.

Midd-West and Shikellamy school districts experienced an uptick in aggressive behaviors among primary students last fall, a startling issue that school officials across the nation reported when in-class instruction resumed following the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We had a lot of issues with fighting, full-on fistfights, violence that is not typical," said Shikellamy's Police Chief Shawn Williams.

Joe Stroup, superintendent at Midd-West, said elementary school teachers reported more aggression among second- and third-graders toward peers and staff.

"It was very much out of the ordinary, and I don't think we were unique," said Midd-West board president Victor Abate.

While there's no national data tracking fights in schools, officials across the country did say violent outbursts happened in their buildings among students much more often last school year.

"Without doubt, we are hearing across the board that schools are experiencing significantly more crises related to school violence and emotional behavioral crises," said Sharon Hoover, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Members of the National Association of School Resource Officers reported there were more weapons on school campuses, more assaults and more fistfights across the country, said executive director Mo Canady.

The Clark County School District in Las Vegas, one of the country's largest, said it will provide teachers with panic buttons after an increase in violence, including a classroom attack on a teacher in April that left her unconscious. The district's police chief, Mike Blackeye, said the 2021-22 school year was the busiest in his department's 40-year history.

Stroup attributed some of the student aggressive behavior that was displayed last year to frustration and isolation due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Abate said it may have been the result of younger children being unable to cope with their feelings since the district did not experience an increase in violent behavior by upperclassmen.

"I think the older kids are more resilient," he said.

Warrior Run Superintendent Thor Edmiston and Selinsgrove Superintendent Frank Jankowski said there wasn't a significant increase in violence in their schools, but they did notice more apathy and a lack of effort and motivation among students.

Edmiston said the district is hopeful it will be able to get classrooms back on track, but noted that "it took two years to get out of whack (during COVID) and it could take another two years to right the ship."

To address student mental health needs, Selinsgrove is hiring more counselors and support staff, said Jankowski. He said the district is adding a second social worker this year and has increased the number of counselors to eight.

"We are increasing our emphasis on supporting students' and families' social and emotional development," he said. "It was a big readjustment (for students) to reacclimate" to in-school learning.

The key to keeping students on an even keel and concentrating on their education is promoting connections so they can interact socially, said Williams.

By the end of the 2021-22 school year, he noticed improvement in student behavior at Shikellamy that "gave me a glimmer of hope."

Williams credits Shikellamy administrators' commitment to providing a positive school environment and he is hoping this upcoming academic year will be better for everyone.

By working together, Williams said his goal is to reduce the 40 citations and about 12 juvenile court referrals he made last year by half in 2022-23.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.