Baltimore County Teachers: Culture of Leniency Leading to Violence
Two Baltimore County Public School teachers say a push to make schools look safer on paper has led to a significant increase in bullying and violence – and it’s not just students who are victims.
“I have been kicked. I have been punched. I have been thrown up against lockers,” stated one of the teachers.
“I've been spit on. A lot of chair throwing, turning over desks, screaming, running around the classroom,” added the other.
These two Baltimore County teachers reached out to Project Baltimore with a simple message.
“What I'm seeing in the schools, it's wrong and it's scary. It's frightening,” said one of the educators.”
For fear of losing their jobs, these educators, who work at different schools, asked to remain anonymous. But they can no longer remain silent – especially after watching recent Fox45 reports detailing escalating violence in public schools.
Stated one of the educators, “If we don't do anything about it and we don't speak out now and try and solve the problem, then we are ultimately becoming part of the problem.”
Fifteen years ago, these teachers say public schools were very different. There were consequences. If a child acted out, let’s say they punched a teacher, that child was disciplined; suspended and possibly arrested or expelled. But a few years ago, they began to see a change in how bad behavior was addressed.
They believe a culture of leniency has set in, which entails little accountability.
The Maryland State Board of Education, a few years back, noticed students of color and those with disabilities were being disproportionally suspended. So, the state pushed to reduce disciplinary action like suspensions, and it worked. Project Baltimore compiled 10 years of in-school and out-of-school suspension data. In 2007, Maryland had 181,578 suspensions. By 2017, it plummeted to 76,719.
This change caught on in Washington, DC. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan even came to Baltimore in 2014 to promote a new national initiative called the “Promise Program,” which encouraged schools to reduce suspensions and arrests in favor of other character interventions, like counseling. The idea was celebrated.
“Just over last year, we decreased our suspensions by 24 percent,” Tisha Edwards, Interim Baltimore City Schools CEO, told Fox45 in 2014.
“Suspension is not the answer,” said Antonio Hurt, who was Principal of Frederick Douglass High School during Duncan’s visit. “What are the alternatives that you put in place? What are the programs you put in place for young people?”
But these teachers say this new approach to discipline is simply not working, saying, “There's no support, morale is down. You begin to not care anymore. Violence in the classroom. Disrespect in the classroom. Students having the run of the school. No fear anymore of being disciplined or of consequences.”
“I was told specifically by my administration when I came to them about fear of being hit by a child that ‘that's just what kids do. Kids hit. Kids kick,’” recalled one of the teachers. “We can't do anything because you can't put your hands on the children. So, if the children are wailing on you, all you can do is put your hands up to defend yourself but you cannot restrain the child in any way.”
“I understand that every child has a right to learn but there is no right to learn because you're taking so much of the learning away to deal with discipline on a daily basis,” concluded the teachers.
Baltimore County Schools declined an interview with Fox45 to discuss its bullying and violence policy. Mychael Dickerson, Chief of Staff for Baltimore County Public Schools issued this statement:
“Just so you know, you are making a broad and general statement by saying these are the programs ‘teachers say aren't working.’ In other words, a few teachers do not represent the majority of teachers in the system (we have more than 9,000) or those who do believe the programs are working. I certainly hope your story does not present a one-sided view of this based on a couple of teachers.
In fact, these character education programs were first introduced by principals and teachers in several of our schools and have been expanded as school administrators shared their outcomes with their colleagues who then worked with their own staffs to collaboratively agree to use these programs. These characters education programs were not mandated by central office but grew from our schools. We support schools using them but every school community is unique and we trust principals to work with their teams to do what's best in their buildings. Systemically, we have policies and rules that outline expected behaviors and consequences for student and staff. We provide support and professional development for schools regardless of what programs they use but you should not suggest that there is a mandate from central office that schools use a particular program. I also hope there is not a suggestion that mentoring does not work. We have seen otherwise as evidenced by various programs across the system.
Ultimately, we want staff to do what's best for children and to develop relationships with them. Our dedicated teachers and staff know the best way to curb discipline is to develop relationships with students. The vast and overwhelming majority of our teachers and principals do this on a daily basis. Finally, I believe it is hyperbolic to say there is a violent atmosphere in our schools. If you and your team would visit and cover some of the positive programs and activities we send you weekly in press releases, you would see this in action for yourselves.”