Apparently Fargo schools have a problem— classroom violence. According to The Forum, “Fargo educators shared vivid and harrowing details about classroom violence in the district’s 20 schools” in a recent survey of about 800 staff members. That survey resulted in 7 out of 10 respondents saying that they were intimidated or fearful in their classrooms.
Just days after the results of the survey were released, news hit that a paraprofessional (i.e. teacher’s aide) at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School was recovering from an attack inflicted by a student— who one source claims has a history of violence. Initial reports of the incident indicated that the student wouldn’t be allowed to return to school. A later report clarified that and said it wasn’t true.
As you might imagine, the entirety of the situation has seemingly reached a boiling point— and rightfully so. After all, who in their right mind thinks violence in schools is acceptable? We’re not talking about a handful of incidences — or even dozens — when it comes to Fargo schools. No, they apparently number in the “hundreds”. Thus, the reason some say they live in fear from the “moment [they] walk into the building.” The issue has now become a major topic of conversation in contract negotiations between the Fargo Education Association and the school board.
A former teacher recently expressed his thoughts in a Letter to the Editor:
“It is beyond time to have an alternative school for middle and elementary students. The classroom disruptions alone should be enough to warrant an alternative school, but add assault into the mix and the learning environment for all of the students is gone. We are losing outstanding teachers that are retiring early. Young teachers may be hard to retain and getting great young people to join the teaching profession will become more difficult.”
Who can blame him for taking such a position? His analysis is certainly a fair one.
Point of View’s Chris Berg has led out in reporting on this issue. Last night POV released an interview Berg had with David Marquardt, who is President-Elect of the Fargo Education Association. It’s worth your time to watch it. Some of the information is nothing short of stunning.
One thing that stuck out to me in Berg’s interview with Marquardt comes at the 3:25 mark when Marquardt says this:
“When we surveyed our members — which was 800 that responded to this — the biggest thing was that there is really no set procedures, no set plan for students to come back into the classroom if something like that happens. Or if something does happen, what’s the process to that student if it does. So, I think our focus now is to get procedures in place that are consistent — that are across the district — and there is a plan if something like this does happen.”
I don’t know that he intended to, but Marquardt’s comments seem to point out that the Fargo School District has been in violation of state law. How? It’s found in subsection 4 of North Dakota Century Code, Section 15.1-19-02:
a. The board of each school district shall develop policies setting forth standards for student behavior, procedures to be followed if the standards are not met, and guidelines detailing how all incidents are to be investigated.
b. The board shall ensure that the policies, procedures, and guidelines applicable to all elementary schools in the district are identical, that the policies, procedures, and guidelines applicable to all middle schools in the district are identical, and that the policies, procedures, and guidelines applicable to all high schools in the district are identical. (Emphasis Added)
As you can see, the law mandates that school districts across the state develop the procedures that Marquardt claims are missing from the district. Why Fargo School District allegedly doesn’t have these procedures is something they’ll have to explain.
To be honest, the entirety of Section 15.1-19 is worth reading. After all, this is the section of law that deals with “Students and Safety”. In fact, even aside from the mandate to establish the aforementioned procedures, the law may provide other needed guidance for Fargo schools. For example, while a “school district employee” may not inflict “or threaten to inflict corporal punishment on a student”, this same law “does not prohibit a school district employee from using the degree of force necessary”:
a. To quell a physical disturbance that threatens physical injury to an individual or damage to property;
b. To quell a verbal disturbance;
c. For self-defense;
d. For the preservation of order; or
e. To obtain possession of a weapon or other dangerous object within the control of a student.
Now, please don’t misunderstand why I’m pointing this out. I’m simply doing so as a means of illustrating that state law does not leave school employees powerless to respond in situations where it’s necessary to defend self, others, and/or property. I realize this may be controversial, but the law provides for it. And when we have students sending school employees to the hospital, I’d say it’s fair game to make part of the discussion.
Aside from this, we also have Section 15.1-19-09 which provides a means whereby school districts can “adopt rules regarding the suspension and expulsion of a student”. Included in this are the guidelines for “a procedural due process hearing” that can ultimately result in expulsion.
I don’t pretend to know all that Fargo’s schools are doing to make the attempt to resolve the issues they’re facing. But are they utilizing all the legal options at their disposal? Were they following state law in the first place? These are questions worth exploring.
What I do know is that no amount of contract negotiations with teachers is going to resolve student behavioral issues. David Marquardt is right— it does indeed seem to be a changing world. After all, who ever dreamed we’d see headlines concerning rampant violence in schools in North Dakota?
Undoubtedly, the Fargo School District is going to have to make some very important decisions. I hope they involve a position of strength, high expectations, and discipline. These are all things students of today desperately need. In fact, I’m absolutely convinced that a “safe learning environment” is impossible without them.
But in all of this I can’t help but wonder, where are the parents? I realize that’s a fairly broad question, but I think it’s a fair one. I don’t think your imagination has to run wild to realize what I mean when I say this— If I had so much as laid a hand on a teacher or other staff in a school, the consequences at home would have been far greater than anything the school did to me.
Yes, it most certainly appears we have some problems. And perhaps that’s an understatement. But the Fargo School District’s alleged failure to have the required procedures in place to deal with school violence might just be the least of them.
NOTE: If you’d like to watch the POV interview with Chris Berg, you can click here.
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