A group of lawmakers tasked with studying violence in schools says the state needs to give districts better standards for reporting violent incidents and staff need better training to handle student behavior.
The Committee to Study Violence in New Hampshire Schools looked at the increase in reports from teachers who say they were injured by students.
The Department of Labor data shows a doubling of reported assault cases against educators from 2015 to 2018.
“The hitting, the spitting, the kicking - it’s all happening,” says Megan Tuttle, President of the NEA-NH. “And it’s happening across the country. Maine is going through it and they have new laws on the books about reporting. Connecticut is trying to get the laws passed about reporting too.”
Educators say some of these cases - particularly by younger students and students who are cognitively or physically imparied - may not be intentional. But there's a cutural shift underway of teachers viewing their own safety as a dimension of school security.
“If we're looking at the safety of schools in physical terms, let's look at the safety of the schools in educational terms and human terms as well,” Tuttle says.
Committee hearings this fall revealed confusion among educators about what they are legally allowed to do when handling violent behavior. Bow superintendent Dean Cascadden says much of this confusion revolves around a law on the use of restraint and seclusion.
“What can teachers do or not do when a child has lost control of their emotions or their physical ability in class? What is a restraint? How much force can you use to remove a child from a situation to make them safe? And what can you do to defend yourself if a child is being violent? We need clarity around these issues,” he told NHPR.
At committee meetings, Michael Skibbie of The Disability Rights Center acknowledged that there was confusion around the restraint laws, but he said they were being misinterpreted. He clarified that the law allowed educators to move a child from one place to another, and for an educator to defend themselves under certain circumstances.
The committee report recommends that the Department of Education and the Department of Labor “work cooperatively to develop consistent definitions and applications of the restraint law” and calls for schools to provide training on the current law.
The report also calls for a better statewide system of reporting on the number of violent incidents in each district, and it recommends that schools that discourage employees from reporting their injuries to the district should face penalties.
It also recommends increasing support for students experiencing trauma at home that can lead to behavioral issues in the classroom.