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Experts weigh in on recent school violence, teacher attacks

Updated April 22, 2022 - 9:48 pm

Three students were arrested Wednesday in three separate assaults on teachers and staff at Las Vegas Valley schools, the latest in a growing trend of violence throughout the Clark County School District that some experts and community leaders say is the culmination of a lack of comprehensive resources for children that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

District officials have said that parents and students are carrying anxiety and trauma after returning to school after two years of the pandemic and social isolation.

Some teachers have questioned whether schools have been unable to discipline students after a restorative justice law passed in 2019 required schools to implement practices that repair harm in lieu of suspending or expelling students in some circumstances. But others have said that the district was never able to fully implement restorative justice practices because of the pandemic and a lack of resources.

Mike Kamer, senior director of a Nevada nonprofit that works to educate students about the law, said there is a social-emotional disease occurring nationally with young people behaving in ways that are running counter to the laws in their communities.

Kamer’s nonprofit, Project REAL, has worked since 2004 to take Nevada students on courthouse field trips to see live criminal proceedings and speak with a federal judge to help them understand legal consequences and make more informed choices.

Kamer said the group anticipated last year that students could return to in-person classes with the potential to act out. Misbehavior among young people has been normalized in recent years with the rise of viral social media videos and challenges, creating a feedback loop of people misbehaving on the internet, he said.

“People see other people acting out, they think it’s acceptable,” Kamer said. “The legal consequences get talked about but they’re not as viral.”

The latest spasm of violence in CCSD comes days after teachers and students at a Las Vegas high school said the district hadn’t delivered on the new security measures it announced this month.

In response to the violent assault of a teacher at Eldorado High School on April 7, the Clark County School District announced new protocols and safety measures that include increased police presence in and around district schools and new communication systems for teachers to reach leadership and security from their classrooms. Last month the district also unveiled new disciplinary actions, including potential expulsion for students who engage in fighting.

But on Tuesday, Eldorado students, teachers and support employees in the district rallied at Eldorado High School to demand more accountability from the district after they said the security changes were not implemented as they returned from spring break.

A day later, two more high school students and a junior high school student were arrested Wednesday at Foothill High School in Henderson, Palo Verde High School in Summerlin and Sawyer Middle School in southwest Las Vegas.

The fifth-largest school district in the country has had more than 5,700 calls for service regarding fights, batteries or assaults, and 1,300 cases resulting in arrests or citations on campuses since the beginning of the school year.

Dr. Samuel Song, a professor of school psychology at UNLV’s College of Education, studies interventions and strategies that promote healthy school cultures. Song said that each situation of student violence against teachers is individual and complicated and can’t be generalized.

Most schools are unable to provide the comprehensive types of support and interventions that are needed in communities, and teacher shortages, large class sizes and a lack of funding and mental health resources all contribute to problems in schools, he said.

“Schools are great places for support and intervention, but also they’re a reflection of the community and the state and the county,” Song said. “You’re expecting a school to solve the problems of larger society. … Family/school partnerships is really important, community policing, how policing happens, the resources in the neighborhood, all of that is part of the problem.”

In a statement sent to parents and employees Thursday, the district said that violent acts, assaults and bullying would not be tolerated and that measures were being implemented to increase security on CCSD campuses.

“Those who choose to engage in these acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Students who choose to engage in violence will be removed and not allowed back onto our campuses,” the district wrote.

The district said it would not disclose the exact details of the increased security “except to those who need to know.”

“As staff is trained on security measures, remember the importance of not sharing the details publicly for the security reasons outlined above as they are outlined in state law and must not be shared,” the district’s statement read.

Kamer with Project REAL also said the district has never been required to teach students about laws and the consequences of breaking them. Project REAL is providing a free conversation guide for adults across Nevada to have 30-minute conversations with the young people in their lives about the legal consequences for their actions.

Kamer said the organization has working relationships with over 300 teachers in the district and private schools throughout Southern Nevada that it plans to roll out its free conversation guide in the coming days.

Kamer also expressed his hope that school administrators and principals get word of the resource as the group works to connect with them individually.

“It’s designed to maintain a cooler social-emotional temperature among young people, to de-normalize bad behavior and do that by emphasizing the consequences of those behaviors,” he said.

Contact Lorraine Longhi at llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow @lolonghi on Twitter. Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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