Statement from CEA President Jeff Leake on Governor Lamont's Budget Address
February 22, 2019
Connecticut public school teachers are sharing hundreds of stories about extreme behaviors in their schools—stories about their personal experiences with violent behaviors that make classrooms unsafe and disrupt learning for all students. Students' needs are going unmet, and educators are calling for the support they need to ensure their safety and the safety of all students.
"Students are coming to school with complex needs, students and educators don't feel safe, and schools and districts don't have the resources to address the root causes of these disruptive incidents," says CEA President Jeff Leake. "Students as young as five are biting, kicking, punching, throwing items, and lashing out in destructive ways, putting themselves and entire classrooms in danger. These are the realities that exist in too many of our classrooms."
Teachers are speaking out at the Education Committee's public hearing today, calling on legislators to pass House Bill 7110 An Act Concerning Enhanced Classroom Safety and School Climate. The bill calls for all schools to have a plan for helping students who exhibit extreme behaviors, especially those who have been removed from the classroom. It would require increased student supports and teacher training, and it would specifically address student trauma, as well as mental health and social-emotional needs.
Madison teacher Danielle Fragoso is one of three teachers sharing their shocking stories with legislators today.
Fragoso says, "During my 15 years in Connecticut classrooms I have been stabbed in the back with a pencil, requiring medical attention. I have had to run across four lanes of traffic chasing students who fled the building. I have had to pull a student off another student who was being choked."
But, she adds, the worst situation happened last year, when an agitated student tried to stab her with a knife during a cooking class. She and another teacher tried to restrain him, but he pulled away and punched her in the eye.
"He was shouting that he wanted us dead and asking why it was so hard to take down two women. After 15 minutes, we finally got the knife away, and he ran. Luckily there were two of us, or the outcome would have been much different."
She continues, "My only thoughts were of my students and hoping none of them would get hurt."
Unlike so many teachers in districts across the state, Fragoso says she is supported by her administration and encouraged to speak out to protect her students and her colleagues.
HB 7110 includes a prohibition against discrimination or retaliation against any individual who reports or assists in the investigation of a disruptive or injurious incident. It also requires that a meeting be conducted with the affected teacher to discuss and determine the steps and interventions necessary to support both the student and the teacher.
"These pieces are key, as too many of our teachers have been pressured to not report or tell others of the incidents that are happening in their classrooms," adds Leake.
In more than 100 pieces of written testimony submitted to legislators today, teachers shared their personal stories of being assaulted and threatened by students. Here are some of the comments:
"As a kindergarten teacher, I have been punched in the face, kicked, pinched, and slapped on numerous occasions. I have been attacked by flying book baskets, shoes, chairs, and other objects."
"It saddens me to say that over the last 18 years of teaching I have seen a major change in the behavior of our students. There are neither appropriate interventions nor consequences for disruptive students. We simply do not have the staff or resources to be proactively intervening in order to truly be a help."
"As a kindergarten teacher, I have a child who has been violent, screamed profanities at his classmates, has spit in his classmates' food and faces, has hit, kicked, and pushed his classmates. The child has punched and kicked teachers, threatened them with scissors, and yelled profanities at teachers and administrators. This has occurred day after day, all day, for over 100 days of school."
"I have been physically hit and had objects thrown at me in front of my other students, who are fearful and anxious. There is no common reporting procedure and therefore no consistent consequence or intervention for helping and addressing disruptive and violent student behaviors."
"I have a student who is very disruptive in the classroom. He is sent to the office for his violent outbursts, but generally he returns the next day and repeats the offensive behavior. Something needs to be done to protect both students and teachers from this level of violence in the classroom."
HB 7110 will help ensure daily classroom safety and provide disruptive students with the appropriate supports they need.
Leake concludes, "This legislation will help us to achieve the safe, welcoming, and inclusive learning environments that we know all of our communities expect as they send their children off to school. This is urgent. This trauma in our classrooms is serious and real. Another year of doing nothing is not acceptable."
Please contact Nancy Andrews if you would like to arrange an interview with CEA or one of the teachers testifying today
The Connecticut Education Association is Connecticut's largest teachers' union, representing active and retired educators across the state.