REPORT: Student Misbehavior Escalates Nationwide

What were once isolated and extreme incidents in many districts have become increasingly commonplace.
Photo: Kiera Burton/Pexels
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The reports are rolling in from around the country — as many schools emerged from virtual learning for the first time in nearly two years, student behavior has dramatically worsened. At Gorham Middle School in Maine, the number of children sent to the front office in 2021 is 33% higher than the total at the same point of the school year in 2019. Fights in Denver, CO’s public school district are up 21% compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Millions more American children are reporting mental health troubles than pre-pandemic numbers. 

But the misbehavior malaise is not limited to statistical charts and principal’s office visits. Students at Bristol Elementary School in Vermont went on a rampage, annihilating the school’s piano, destroying school computers, and damaging numerous cars in the school parking lot, resulting in thousands of dollars in total damage. Beaumont, TX is begging parents to take a bigger role in their children’s educations, fearing that misbehavior will eventually translate into violence. One American teacher, who spoke to Chalkboard Review staff on the condition of anonymity, reported being sexually harassed by several students, none of whom have been punished in any meaningful way. 

Obviously, fights, vandalism, and sexual harassment are no strangers to American schools. But what were once isolated and extreme incidents in many districts have become increasingly commonplace, and teachers are forced to resocialize a generation of students whose learning environment was completely and utterly shattered. 

“You can’t teach if you have six kids screaming in the corner,” said Jesenia Chavez, a Kindergarten and 1st Grade teacher from Los Angeles. “The training is available, but [the district is] like, do it on your off time,” Chavez said. “They aren’t creating the space and time for us to do it.”

Chris Woods, a STEM teacher from Grand Rapids, MI, has also been struggling to revive his previous learning environment. “After months of limited interaction with peers, [kids] social skills have suffered,” Woods said in communication with Chalkboard Review staff.

“Yes, kids continued to connect online, through chatting or social media, but nothing replaces the impact of face-to-face communication. And as they continue to wear masks in the classroom, their confidence in speaking, sharing ideas, and asking questions have all been negatively impacted. The quiet students have gotten quieter,” Woods continued. 

There is little doubt that the pandemic has played a major role in the intensification of student misconduct, but the American Enterprise Institute’s Max Eden thinks that the pandemic’s hardships were exacerbated by ongoing and destructive trends in American education.

In a phone call, Eden argued that many school districts are prioritizing the promotion of “restorative justice” over their basic responsibility to educate America’s youth. To supporters of restorative justice, according to Eden, “disciplining students for behavior is inherently oppressive.” When combined with mandatory masking, he says, the resultant mix of friction-filled social interactions is a recipe for disaster. 

Eden also attributed blame to the sudden and meteoric rise of social-emotional learning (SEL), which acts as “as an alleged solution for problems created in part by restorative justice, for which there is very little evidence.”

You can also count Woods among the skeptics of SEL. He noted that many school districts have thrown gobs of money at SEL programs in a failed attempt to improve student conduct. However, Woods asserts that any real solutions to the epidemic of student misbehavior have to begin at home. 

“We need to daily build kids back up to pre-pandemic levels of focus, perseverance, and enthusiasm for learning,” he said. “Families need to ensure that their kids are working on assignments or enrichment opportunities at home, instead of spending more time on TikTok. And most importantly, kids need to understand the value of learning again.”

Unfortunately, there looks to be little respite for America’s educators and families. Though President Biden has made keeping schools open an administration priority, school closures around the country are already ticking upward, and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, has begun prophesying doom as a result of the Omicron variant. 

But schools do not have time for politicking and government do-gooderism to take shape. Without immediate help, the mistakes that provoked the worsening of student behavior will be repeated, intensified, and solidified. 

“As educators, we’ve got to help kids start feeling normal as soon as possible,” says Woods. “[Kids] need consistency in their lives, especially when the world around them is filled with changes.” One can only hope that decision-makers see that too. 

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.