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DC teachers worry about safety as first day of school approaches

The Washington Teachers' Union surveyed teachers on their experience with violence and sent recommendations for change to DCPS.

WASHINGTON — As DC Public Schools teachers prepare to head back into the classroom next week, many say they're concerned about an uptick in violence they saw last year.

The Washington Teacher's Union recently released survey results that show the violence teachers experienced and witnessed.

Here are some of the highlights they shared:

Frequency and type of violence incidents

  • Frequency of events: 42 percent of respondents said workplace violence has increased a lot in their schools within the past year.
  • Student-on-student violence: 55 percent said they witnessed assaults; 70 percent heard physical threats; 73 percent saw slaps, punching or kicking; and 46 percent saw groping or inappropriate touching.
  • Student-on-staff violence: 30 percent experienced assaults; 49 percent experienced physical threats; 42 percent were slapped, punched or kicked; and 13 percent experienced groping or inappropriate touching.

Impact of violent behavior on respondents’ mental well-being and work

  • 49 percent said they have experienced sadness/depression; 74 percent said they have anxiety, fear or increased vigilance; and 19 percent experienced physical injury.
  • 29 percent said they took time off or reduced work, and 45 percent said they considered leaving the profession.

Effectiveness of DCPS protocols and supports for students:

  • 44 percent said their school has procedures in place to report workplace assaults, while 42 percent said they were unsure, and 14 percent said there were none.
  • 37 percent said their school has a procedure in place to investigate workplace assaults, 51 percent said they were unsure, and 12 percent said there were none.
  • 82 percent said they do not receive adequate training to address workplace assaults.
  • 71 percent said there are not enough counselors or there is not enough social service support for students in their school.

“What was really interesting is although teachers are wanting to protect themselves, and they're concerned about their safety, the biggest concern for teachers was the safety of their students and seeing an uptick of violence or student-on-student violence and behavior against each other that they just said they hadn't seen at that point," WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons said.

Pogue Lyons said with the struggle to retain teachers, she’s particularly concerned that nearly half of all respondents said they considered leaving the profession because of all this.

“They said, students that they could normally talk to to redirect, were acting out toward them," she said. "They couldn't redirect them and feeling at a loss. And then feeling that the administration and the system [didn't know] how to handle this uptick, uptick in behaviors, poor behaviors by students."

The union sent 17 recommendations to DCPS at the start of summer that they think would help.

They include creating a committee to assess these types of threats, providing counseling services for students, their families, and staff, and expanding the Safe Passage program.

Pogue Lyons said they haven't heard back about a plan from the school system.

WUSA 9 sent the survey results and recommendations to DCPS, and they sent the following response:

"At DC Public Schools, the safety and well-being of our entire community is paramount. We are carefully reviewing the concerns raised by the Washington Teachers’ Union as we plan for comprehensive safety improvements in School Year 2023-2024 that include additional training for school-based staff around incident response, updates to the district’s visitor policies, and conflict resolution support for students. As the first day of school approaches, we are working diligently with our partners throughout District government to ensure that educators and students can experience joyful learning in safe environments across the city.”

DC Public Schools students head back to class on Monday, August 28.

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