August 10th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: Why I won't break up a school fight

By Robyn Barberry, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Robyn Barberry teaches English and drama at a Maryland high school. With her husband, she manages Legends of the Fog, a haunted attraction with more than 200 teen volunteers. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction from Goucher College and blogs about motherhood for The Catholic Review.

(CNN) - In Florida, a 64-year-old bus driver has been criticized for failing to physically intervene in a three-on-one fight that took place in July. The bus driver says he was afraid to step in. As a high school teacher, I can't blame him.

The adults who work in public schools are outnumbered. When a violent, hormone-fueled scene unfolds, it's our duty to quell the calamity with every resource we have in the name of safety. But where do we draw the line?

Early in my teaching career, I was afraid of some of the bigger boys at school, especially one. I could see he carried a great deal of hatred inside - for me, for his classmates, for the world. He was tall and muscular; he could have been an athlete, but his poor grades, bad attitude and spotty record kept him from playing sports.

One afternoon, as I waited outside my classroom door, I heard a scuffle behind me. The boy I feared and another, smaller boy were shoving each other by my white board. I stepped in, and told them to stop. When they didn't, I shouted louder and told another student, my go-to helper, to get another teacher. As the shoves turned to punches, rage grew in the larger boy's eyes. The other student asked him to stop, but he had thrust his hands around his neck. I tried to pull him free, but the large boy shoved, pressing the other student and my arm against the cinder block wall. I felt trapped and frightened, and thought I might black out. Just then, two male teachers pulled the boys apart and dragged them to the office.

"Are you OK?" a third teacher said. "Look at your hand!"

My wrist was red and swollen. It hurt, but not as much as knowing I wasn't safe in my own classroom. My neighbor teacher took over my class so that I could go to the office to fill out an incident report. I could barely grip the pen. Two police officers assigned to our school urged me to file assault charges against the boys, but I insisted they just hadn't seen me. I wanted to believe that they wouldn't hurt me, but I also wondered if the boy would retaliate if the law got involved.

Fortunately, my wrist was only sprained and I returned to work the next day in a cumbersome brace. But I kept wondering, what if the boy had pushed the other one harder? What if his anger was directed at me? Suppose it was my head that was smashed against that cinderblock wall? What if he'd had a weapon?

On the other side, what if adrenaline gave me undiscovered strength and I had hurt one of them? Could their parents sue me? Would I lose my job?

Read Barberry's full column

August 5th, 2013
09:24 AM ET

Driver says he did all he could during Florida school bus beating

By Pamela Brown, CNN

(CNN) - The windmilling fists and stomping feet rain down blows on the 13-year-old boy.

Trapped on the floor between the bus seats, he cries out as he receives fierce punch after vicious kick from the three bigger, older youths.

As the relentless assault unfolds, the driver of the Florida school bus alerts the dispatcher, pleading for aid.

But he doesn't physically step in to help.

The bus driver, at least according to his school's policy, did nothing wrong.

'Get somebody here quick'

The attack took place July 9 in Pinellas County, Florida. But the horrific cell phone video - and the surveillance video - came out only recently.

As the boy is pummeled, the bus driver John Moody yells at the assailants to leave the boy alone.

He also asks dispatchers to send help.

"You gotta get somebody here quick, quick, quick, quick," he says. "They're about to beat this boy to death over here."

"Please get somebody here quick. There's still doing it," he adds. "There's nothing I can do."

Moody, 64, says he was too afraid to step in.

"The three boys just jumped on him and started pounding on him. And I did all can," he told CNN affiliate WFLA. "I was looking. It was like I was in shock. I was petrified."

Not required to intervene

The ferocity of the attack left the 13-year-old with two black eyes and a broken arm.

"There was clearly an opportunity for him to intervene and or check on the welfare of the children or the child in this case and he didn't make any effort to do so," Chief Robert Vincent of Gulfport Police Department told the affiliate.

According to Pinellas County school policy, the bus driver isn't required to intervene, only to call dispatch.

He can step in, if he feels it's safe.

Other counties actually forbid drivers from physically stopping fights.

Read the full story

Follow @CNNschools on Twitter!

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Filed under: Bus driver • Florida • School bus safety • School violence
April 25th, 2013
08:20 AM ET

Dartmouth cancels classes after protest, online threats

By Laura Ly, CNN

(CNN) - Dartmouth College canceled classes Wednesday after a student protest sparked a threatening backlash on a campus online forum, according to a college spokesman.

On Friday, current Dartmouth students interrupted a welcome show for recently admitted students by chanting about aspects of student life they found troubling, such as issues around homophobia and sexual assault on campus. The welcome show was designed to highlight why the prospective students should attend Dartmouth, college spokesman Justin Anderson said.

The decision to cancel classes was prompted by a series of threatening and abusive online posts that targeted the students who protested at the welcome show, a letter sent to Dartmouth students and faculty said.

OPINION: Oberlin wrong to cancel classes after hate incidents

The online postings appeared on BoredAtBaker.com, a Dartmouth-exclusive forum where students post about happenings on campus, according to student Dani Valdes, 22. The website has since been shut down.

Comments on the website included derogatory, homophobic, racist, and sexist remarks directed at the student protesters. Threats of violence and sexual assault also appeared. Although student protesters expected campus-wide reaction, they say were not anticipating the level of hostility they experienced.

Read the full story

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Columbine survivor: No child should worry about gunmen
Children, a sister and brother, walk along the Columbine Memorial at the Columbine Memorial Park in Littleton, Colorado.
April 23rd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Columbine survivor: No child should worry about gunmen

Elizabeth LandauBy Katie Lyles, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Katie Lyles, who teaches third graders in Colorado, was a student at Columbine during the massacre 14 years ago.

(CNN) - At 16, my innocence was shattered when two gunmen murdered 13 people at my school and wounded countless others.

Columbine High School promised to be a safe and secure place of learning. And that promise was broken on April 20, 1999.

On that morning, I headed to school worried about my 10th grade math test and my upcoming track meet. Useless worries: The test was never given and we never held the meet.

Scars remain from that day that no one can see. Scars that made my worries about math tests or track performance pale in comparison to whether my science partner would live or whether my classmate's speech would be impaired by the shrapnel lodged in his skull. Today, those mental scars throb in large crowds and force me to scan the room for exits. They make my heart beat faster when I hear the blades of a helicopter overhead.

Now, as a teacher in my eighth year in the classroom, I consider every day that I go to work a privilege. I cherish my students' joy and enthusiasm, and most importantly, their innocence.

I believe that it is our job, as a society, to protect these virtues in our young people. I want them to be worried about math tests and track meets and about science fairs and student council elections - the kind of normal school stuff that builds character. But our epidemic of gun violence is creating a culture of fear in our schools, where students are anxious about safety and intruders. These are worries no student should have.

Opinion: It's time to change schools' culture of misery

This becomes even more apparent when we conduct our monthly emergency drill at our school. It's a way to be prepared for the worst, so we practice lockdowns, fire drills and evacuations.

The other day, I was explaining to my third graders that we were going to practice a lockdown just in case a bear happened to be on the playground - a real scenario for our Colorado school. I have used this example my entire teaching career because it's an easy and nonthreatening reason to practice a lockdown.

One girl raised her hand and asked: "Is this what we would do if a bad guy came with a gun to hurt us?"

Read Lyles' full column

February 15th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: How we talk about guns in my Chicago classroom

Courtesy Sandra SteinbrecherEditor’s note: Ray Salazar is a National Board Certified English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He writes about education and Latino issues on the White Rhino blog. Follow him on Twitter @whiterhinoray.

By Ray Salazar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke about gun violence, and he continues the discussion in Chicago today. He recognized in his speech, “our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.”

As a high school teacher in Chicago, I want to hear more than an acknowledgment that shootings are happening, that young people are dying violently and unfairly.  I want to hear his determination to push through Second Amendment politics and assure us his leadership will make our streets safer. We might not be able to prevent every senseless act, but we must decrease the desensitization that encourages only one-word reactions to shootings: “Again?”

My first teaching job in 1995 focused on troubled teens at an alternative high school on Chicago’s Southwest side. I grew up in this neighborhood, but only knew gun violence in Little Village as a distant reference - until one of my students got shot in the middle of the day, about one mile from the school, about one block from my house.

Sergio had returned to school in 1996 after dropping out. He slouched and wore a black, dusty hoodie. He struggled. His spelling was so bad that all I could do was rewrite his crooked sentences so he could then rewrite them correctly. He never complained. He sat, mostly silent, usually working. One day, his parole officer met with me and said his spelling was getting better. In 1997, he was shot and died.

He became the first person I knew killed by being shot. A couple of years later, someone shot a gang banger in front of my house while I dozed off to “Saturday Night Live.” A few years after that, my wife and I were shot at near our home as we returned from a wedding. Despite my anger, my disappointment, my fear, I felt all I could do was call 911.

In 2012, Chicago reached 500 homicides. So far this year, Chicago has at least 42 murder victims, one of them a high school student who performed at events around Obama's inauguration.

We've explored controversial issues in my classes, but we never took on gun violence, perhaps because it wasn’t controversial. There is only one side to it - it should not exist. I didn’t know how to push students into a deeper conversation or meaningful debate about this.

It was after the Sandy Hook shooting, however, I felt obligated to engage my students in conversations about guns. Gunshots, because of Colorado, Arizona and Connecticut, finally captured people's attention beyond Little Village. I knew my students would hear perspectives on the news, online, on Facebook. What would they say? What would they do? They needed to know the vocabulary, the history, the rhetoric to challenge closed minds and respond to open-ended questions in ways that represented their individual reality. We needed to join the national discussion.

These, after all, are the experiences that show students how the writing in their notebooks matters outside of our classroom.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Guns in school • Politics • School violence • Students • Teachers • Voices • Writing
My View: Mental health services make schools safer
Springfield, Oregon, mourned after a student shot and killed two and injured dozens more at Thurston High School in 1998.
January 16th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: Mental health services make schools safer

Courtesy Cathy PaineBy Cathy Paine, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Cathy Paine is a school psychologist in Springfield, Oregon, and chairwoman of the National Emergency Assistance Team for the National Association of School Psychologists. She was a panelist at the White House Summit on School Violence Prevention in 2006.

This week, Schools of Thought publishes perspectives on school security. Tomorrow, a school resource officer explains his role in campus security.

(CNN) - I received the emergency call at 8:14 a.m. on May 21, 1998.

Eighteen minutes earlier, a 15-year-old student had entered Thurston High School armed with two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle, and in a matter of seconds, killed two students and wounded 25 more, some sustaining life-long injuries. As a school psychologist in Springfield, Oregon, I was called because of my role on the district’s crisis response team. In a few short moments, we were transformed from innocent, unsuspecting individuals engaged in our normal routines into traumatized victims of a school shooting spree.

Those shots shattered our sense of safety and security; no longer could we say, “It can’t happen here.” While nothing in my 23 years of experience in education prepared me for the magnitude of that horrifying event, my training as a school psychologist did prepare me to know how to respond in the moment and to provide counseling support to students and staff in the days, weeks and months of recovery. The experience also reinforced for me how critically important mental health is to all aspects of the school safety and violence prevention continuum.

Since then, I have devoted significant energy to advocating for effective school safety, crisis prevention and intervention strategies at the local and national levels as a member of my district crisis team and as a member and chairwoman of the National Association of School Psychologists’ National Emergency Assistance Team. In both roles, I have learned some important lessons about what works, lessons I strongly believe should be our guiding principles as the nation grapples (once again) with the question, “How to we keep our students safe?” in the aftermath of the heartbreaking events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

FULL POST

January 11th, 2013
10:20 AM ET

California sheriff: Youth who shot classmate felt he'd been bullied

By Michael Martinez, CNN

(CNN) - A 16-year-old student who blasted a California high school classroom with a shotgun Thursday was targeting two classmates because he felt he'd been bullied, the local sheriff said Thursday night.

One student was hit and was in critical but stable condition Thursday night, and the shooter was in custody after a teacher and the school's campus supervisor talked him into putting his shotgun down.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he did not know whether bullying had actually occurred between the Taft Union High School students.

"But certainly he (the shooter) believed that the two people he had targeted had bullied him," Youngblood said at an evening news conference in Taft, about 30 miles from Bakersfield.

The young shooter was still being interrogated Thursday evening, Youngblood said, adding that the youth will be charged as a juvenile with attempted murder. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether he should be charged as an adult, the sheriff said.

The name of the student in custody was not released.

My View: Balancing fear, hope after a school shooting

Youngblood laid out a detailed scenario of the hours before the shooting, saying the student planned the assault the night before, and took a shotgun belonging to his brother.

The student did not show up for school on time Thursday, Youngblood said, instead appearing about half through the first period of classes. He was caught on school surveillance cameras, the sheriff said, using a side entrance instead of the school's main door and "appearing nervous" as he tried to conceal the shotgun when he entered the school.

The gunman fired directly at one student, who was hit, then as students rushed to flee, the gunman fired again, Youngblood said.

"Miraculously, (the second shot) didn't injure anyone."

My View: Above all, teachers are in it for the kids

Youngblood credited the teacher and the campus supervisor - a campus monitor on the school's staff - with bravely facing off with the young gunman. Youngblood identified the teacher as Ryan Heber and the campus supervisor as Kim Lee Fields.

"They stood there face-to-face (with the gunman) not knowing whether he's going to turn that shotgun on them," Youngblood said.

Read the full story

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Filed under: Bullying • Guns in school • Issues • School violence • Teachers
January 3rd, 2013
09:57 AM ET

Sandy Hook students return to class for first time since Newtown shooting

By Olivia Smith and David Ariosto, CNN

(CNN) - For the first time since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Christine Wilford plans do something remarkable on Thursday that once was routine: drop her child off at school.

The last time her 7-year-old son, Richie, was in class was on December 14, when a gunman smashed his way into his school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 children and adults.

As shots rang out, Richie's teacher locked the door and huddled her students into the corner as the shooter roamed the hallways, wielding an AR-15 assault rifle and firing.

When it appeared safe, the children were then hurried away to a nearby fire station, where teary parents either reunited with their sons and daughters or learned that they had been killed.

Nearly a month later, Wilford said her son still has trouble sleeping and is often scared by loud noises.

Newtown chooses faith, charity, hope

But on Thursday, he will join hundreds of other Newtown students returning to class for the first time since the tragedy.

"We think it's good he's going back," Wilford said. "If I leave my child anywhere, I'm leaving a piece of my heart, so it's difficult to leave him."

But Richie apparently isn't afraid and says he's looking forward to seeing his friends, she said.

They won't be attending Sandy Hook Elementary, which police say remains part of an ongoing investigation into Adam Lanza, the gunman who also killed his mother before opening fire at the school.

Instead, Richie and his classmates are expected to travel to Chalk Hill Middle School in the nearby town of Monroe, where a green-and-white banner greeting the children hangs on a fence.

Read the full story

January 2nd, 2013
11:12 AM ET

In Syria, school opens to displaced children

In the midst of civil war, Syrians face political upheaval, starvation, bombings and violence –  nearly 40,000 people were killed in the civil war last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday. But one thing hasn't changed: a generation of children hoping to learn, to feel a sense of normalcy.

At one school in Damascus, 1,600 children come in two shifts. Educators say any child is welcome, regardless of political affiliation. Some students are new to the school, displaced from other areas. This school isn't entirely safe either, though. Within a few weeks late last year, 35 students and two teachers from the area were killed.

"We keep the school open and help with their fears," head teacher Abdul Kader Amouri told ITN's Alex Thomson. "We can't do as much as before, but the key thing is to try and deal with their anxiety."

December 19th, 2012
09:31 AM ET

Connecticut teachers were heroes in the face of death

By Ben Brumfield, CNN

(CNN) - Facing down a gunman, placing yourself in the path of flying bullets, forfeiting your life to protect innocents. It's a job description fitting for a soldier or police officer, but for a school teacher - an elementary school teacher at that?

What the teachers and principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School did for the children in their care could win a soldier in a war zone a Purple Heart.

But the soldier makes a conscious choice to face mortal danger when he or she enlists. Sandy Hook's heroes did not.

Adam Lanza did not give them that choice when he opened fire in the hallway and two classrooms Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.

Long before it happened, Principal Dawn Hochsprung tried to prevent a shooting - or any other calamity - by implementing new security measures at Sandy Hook. She made sure teachers practiced getting into lockdown mode.

The front door was locked when the gunman arrived. A mother meeting with Hochsprung about her struggling child was astounded that the gunman had gotten in: "It's a locked school; you have to be buzzed in," she later said.

Lanza blasted his way in.

Hochsprung heard the loud pop. She, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and Vice Principal Natalie Hammond went to investigate.

They were acting as the first line of protection and paid heavily for it. Only Hammond returned from the hallway alive - but not unscathed.

Along with Hochsprung, 47, and Sherlach, 56, four teachers perished.

Victoria Soto, 27, moved her first-grade students away from the classroom door. The gunman burst in and shot her, according to the father of a surviving student.

"She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children," her mother, Donna Soto, told CNN's Piers Morgan.

Read the full story

 

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