Nov 6, 2019 at 11:07 am

Forgive the crude language, but WTF is happening in Jefferson County Public Schools?

Maybe you saw the classroom fight between a JCPS student and teacher, captured on a viral cellphone video taken by another student. The 14-year-old student and teacher were standing toe-to-toe, and the teacher can be heard asking “You think I’m afraid of you?” The student then pushed her. The teacher rushed forward and screams, “Get your fucking hands off me” and pushed the student to the ground, clearing out several desks and chairs. Punches were thrown by both.

The student was arrested, and the teacher probably should be charged, as well, if the video is any measure.

Students shouldn’t be expected to know how to react when a teacher confronts them like it is a schoolyard fight.

As for the teacher, how did she get to the point where she was ready to lay hands on a child? That she did raises the question about whether she — and all teachers — have been trained to handle such situations.

If anything good comes from that recorded fight, it will be new attention paid to the prevalence of physical violence in our public schools, about how ill-equipped teachers are and about how unrealistic it is for teachers to be successful in their core job: teaching.

Since the video went viral on social media, some astounding facts have come out about violent incidents in public schools:

There have been about 2,000 reports of physical contact between students and teachers or school staff members so far this year, with 71 described as assaults, the Courier Journal reported.

The newspaper characterized such assaults as “relatively rare.”

WTF? Seventy-one...!

Additionally, in a survey of the teachers union, the CJ reported, about 1,100 teachers said they had been assaulted in school at least once, while two-thirds of those teachers didn’t report the assault as of Oct. 24. — only two months into the school year!

These figures are evidence that teachers and school staffers need more help and training to de-escalate confrontations when possible.

Does that mean that a school resource officer could have prevented the fight at Iroquois? Possibly. What other options are available to teachers to instill discipline or respect or create a positive-learning environment in the classroom?

School Board member Linda Duncan brought up the issue of assaults in September, the CJ reported. She believes that students who hit teachers should be sent to alternative schools.

But the violence is only one impediment for teachers.

Student hunger and poverty are not the school’s or teachers’ responsibilities, but they affect what happens in classrooms.

Almost two-thirds of JCPS students are on free or reduced-price lunch programs. So, not only are they coming to school hungry, some even malnourished, but they also are likely suffering from other issues connected to poverty: inconsistent or no medical care and parents who have to work too much to spend enough time supporting or reading to them, for example.

It’s impossible for kids to learn if they’re hungry, sick or feel unsafe in the classroom.

One final issue that needs to be addressed: race.

JCPS has a suspension crisis. Last school year, black students in JCPS were over two and a half times more likely to be suspended than white students, which was an improvement over previous years, the CJ reported.

As of last year, 35% of the JCPS student body was black and only 12% of JCPS teachers. Think this doesn’t make a difference to our racially-blind eyes?

Researchers from Vanderbilt University studying 10,000 elementary school kids in a public school found that it can have a tremendous impact:

“In fact, all else being equal, black students are three times more likely to be assigned to gifted programs when taught by a black teacher than a non-black teacher. Assignment rates for high-achieving black students with black teachers are similar to those of white students with similar characteristics.”

I don’t expect a 14-year-old student to know how to react properly when a teacher calls them out in front of classmates. And it would be easy to demonize this teacher, but she teaches in a school where there have been eight violent incidents reported involving students and school staff in the first three months of the school year. How could we expect these incidents to not continue to happen?

Teachers face incredible obstacles and often unreasonable expectations, and that’s before they even enter a classroom.

WTF can we do to help?