JCPS teachers have 'significant concerns' about student behavior, union says
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The number of Jefferson County Public Schools teachers who have "significant concerns" regarding student behavior in their classrooms has increased over the past year, along with the severity of the problems, officials with the teachers union said Friday.
DeeAnn Flaherty, executive director of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said she has been made aware of at least two incidents where a teacher has been hit in the face by a student this week alone -- including one on Thursday in which a Ballard High student was videotaped by other students. The video was posted on Snapchat.
"It seems to be a growing problem," Flaherty said. "We are trying to address this with the school district."
With increasing numbers of teachers complaining to the association about students' behavior, the group conducted an online survey this summer.
According to the survey, in which 1,096 JCPS teachers took, 35 percent indicated that student behavior is a problem in their classroom that negatively affects their ability to teach "most of the time," while 45 percent indicated it "sometimes" is a problem.
(In order for them to fill out the survey, they had to be JCPS teachers and members of JCTA. Of the 1,096 responses: 41 percent taught at the elementary level, 30 percent were at the middle school level and 29 percent were high school teachers.)
The majority of teachers (73 percent) who responded said their schools have a school-wide discipline strategy for managing student behavior, but roughly 30 percent said it was only "sometimes" effective, while 35 indicated the strategy was "rarely" effective.
The Ballard incident appears to show just how far apart teachers and the administration are on behavior issues.
"All parties are being interviewed and I cannot comment further at this time," said Bonnie Hackbarth, a JCPS spokeswoman.
When asked if it is acceptable for a student to hit a teacher, Hackbarth said JCPS "does not tolerate violence in schools."
"We have strict policies and procedures for addressing any violence that does occur, and we provide training to assist our faculty and staff in de-escalating situations that might lead to violence," she said.
"Violence includes aggressive or assaultive behavior," Hackbarth said, quoting the district's Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline and the Student Bill of Rights. "Consequences may include district suspension of six to 10 days, with a parent/guardian conference; in addition, the school may notify law enforcement officials."
But Chuck Bird, a JCTA Board member, said the union believes there is an "acceptance of school violence" among district leaders.
"Even though we aren't clear on all of the details concerning (Thursday's) assault of a teacher at Ballard by a student, sadly, it is not surprising that this type of violence has been, is, and will continue to occur by students against teachers and staff district wide at all grade levels," he said.
Linda Duncan, a school board member, said she has a lot of concerns with student discipline in the district.
"When kids do not see a response, they don't see the difference between right and wrong," Duncan said. "Keeping a child in the school in a different setting is not going to solve the problem."
This school year, the effort to reshape alternative education is among the most-watched changes in JCPS. District officials believe the changes will better meet the needs of individual students, as well as reduce the drop-out rate and increase the graduation rate of the district's alternative students.
According to an email sent to JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens and school board members on June 12, JCTA president Brent McKim called the survey results "alarming."
"We urge the school board work with the superintendent to develop clear, specific, realistic and constructive goals for improving the alarming and unacceptable state of student behavior in JCPS," he wrote. "To be clear, the association is not suggesting that these problems are due to Dr. Hargens. Indeed, student behavior has been a longstanding challenge in JCPS, long before Dr. Hargens became superintendent."
Bird said as of Friday, JCTA has received no response from JCPS about the survey.
Hackbarth said JCPS has not received the final results of the JCTA survey. She added that the district does survey teachers and staff about a variety of topics, including their perceptions of the safety of their classrooms and schools.
“In fiscal (year) 2015, JCPS teachers filed 107 reports of assaults or threats by students," she said. "Of those, teachers chose not to prosecute in 67 cases, 15 cases were prosecuted by JCPS security, and 25 were prosecuted by local law enforcement.”
Hackbarth also pointed to the district's 2015 Comprehensive Survey, with results showing that 92 percent of JCPS certified staff (including teachers and principals) agree or strongly agree with the statement, "I feel safe and secure at my work place." In addition, 91.5 percent agree or strongly agree with the statement, "I feel safe outside the building before and after work."
Bird said the union will take a two-point approach.
"First, we are going to check and make sure we can define the legal protections that our teachers and staff have when it comes to assault inside a school building," he said. "Secondly, we are going to continue to attempt to work with the district on meaningful solutions to this culture of acceptance of students who are assaulting adult staff members and staff."
To be fair, Bird said the percentage of students who are misbehaving represent about 5 percent of the total enrollment (roughly 101,000 students), but their behavior "impacts the majority of kids who are behaving."
Some other questions and responses from the survey, which can be found here:
- On average, do you feel like parents are supportive in helping you deal with student behavior when you contact them? 48 percent of teachers responded "sometimes," 34 percent responded "rarely," 16 percent responded "usually," 3 percent responded "never" and 1 percent responded always.
- To what extent do administrators in your school assist as needed in dealing with misbehavior in your classroom?? 38 percent of teachers said "sometimes," 25 percent said "rarely," 22 percent said "usually," 10 percent said "most of the time," and 4 percent said never.
- How much instructional time per hour do you lose due to dealing with student behavior issues? 26 percent said 6-10 minutes, 17 percent said more than 20 minutes, 16 percent said 1-5 minutes, another 16 percent said 11-15 minutes, 13 percent said 15-20 minutes and 11 percent specified "other."
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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