Teachers, students worry about altercation training

The Southerner

By Lena Rosen and Lily Soto

Before serious threats from the administration, fighting in classrooms and the hallways were becoming increasingly frequent. Teachers feel unprepared when fights occur in their presence.

Administration and student resource officers cannot always be on the scene quickly enough to break up conflicts, and other staff members have found it difficult to intervene between students. Many teachers feel uncomfortable getting involved due to a lack of training and fear of potential legal consequences.

Social studies teacher Chris Wharton believes APS officials need to improve the system’s altercation policy. He said that if an improved policy was in place that included training on what steps teachers are supposed to take to stop fights before they require police officer intervention, he’d feel more comfortable stepping in.

“If there was an actual policy, I’d feel like APS would back me up if it came to legal issues,” Wharton said.

Physics teacher Like Esposito agreed that such a policy would make teachers more active in countering student violence because, in his opinion, possible legal repercussions act as a deterrent to teachers who would be in a optimal position to take action. Teachers standing around may have the opportunity to prevent escalation, but many don’t feel comfortable.

“Something that would be like: if you follow these guidelines, APS would back you in your attempts to intervene,” Esposito said.

Altercations between school staff and students have recently become a larger focus after an incident occurred between a student and a police officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC, made national news earlier in the school year.

A female student refused to comply with directions given by a teacher to leave the room. After an administrator arrived, a police officer was called in to remove the student from the class.

After the student refused to leave with the officer, she struck him in the face. The police officer increased his attempts, which became physical removal tactics. He yanked her backwards, flipping the desk over. The officer then proceeded to drag the student out of the room.

The incident was covered repeatedly on national news outlines, leading to many schools reassessing their policies on how staff should deal with altercations between students and faculty.

Grady faculty and staff, according to Assistant Principal Dr. David Propst, already had little record of getting involved, possibly due to the lack of training.

“In some staff meetings [at the beginning of the year] we were told to find alternate conflict solutions, and they gave us some ideas,” Esposito said. “Instead of elevating the conflict by being disrespectful to the students, they gave us some strategies to deal with some conflict resolutions and to keep things from escalating.”

However, these alternate conflict solutions didn’t include what to do when a fight was actually occurring, just how to attempt to prevent arguments from escalating from words to physical actions.

Some teachers don’t remember what they were told at the beginning of the year due to the unclear directions.

“We received so many different trainings, I really can’t recall,” Athletic Director Myss Jelks said.

Jelks however, as a former policewoman, is less uneasy about stepping into an altercation than some of the other Grady faculty are.

Few teachers within Grady actually have experience with intervening. However, certain teachers do have stories about preventing altercations from occurring.

“The only time I’ve gotten involved was when I was teaching over at Banneker [High School],” said AP U.S. History teacher Roderick Pope. “One of my AP students started popping her nails off, so I knew a fight was about to happen, and I just put my arm around her shoulders and said ‘oh no Charlie, honey, we’re not doing this,’ and turned her around and walked away.”

According to Propst, the faculty is a unit committed to preventing and ending conflict.

“We work as a team,” Propst said, “From janitors to administration, we do whatever we can to separate students.”

Propst himself has well-known tactics for separating students, however, he came up with those strategies without any separate training provided by APS.

Other school districts include fight separation training for teachers in either initial instruction or later as part of a team.

Esposito has been a part of this training before, and said it made him more comfortable intervening. Jelks also found this to be true at other schools.

“At [Lithonia] in Dekalb County, they showed us how to restrain students and everything,” Jelks said.

This altercation training at Grady would benefit teacher and students alike.

“I think everybody would appreciate appropriate training and clarity on what we can and can’t do and what we will and won’t get in trouble for,” Jelks said.

Students also feel similarly. Many believe that if teachers had better training, fights would occur less often.

“If the teachers were more involved and had more training and were able to stop the fights faster, it would make the school a better place,” junior Kira Lewitt said.

Teachers have more potential than the student resource officers to be first-responders due to their proximity to students when fights break out in hallways between classes.

“If [teachers] actually had training to get involved, then a teacher is more likely to be around and intervene than those few officers,” junior James Briggs said.

Many at Grady see a need for improved and necessary training. Altercation training could keep time at school dedicated to learning, which could foster a more productive community at Grady.

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