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Oklahoma City Public Schools reports 1,959 students were involved in fights at school the first semester of this school year, up 438 from the first semester of last school year.

The first semester of last school year (2018-2019) 1,521 students were involved in some sort of fight according to the district’s spokespersons.

And, the constant struggle of violence in Oklahoma’s largest and most urban of school districts with around 35,500 students is wearing down its teachers.

In January, Free Press reported an increase of out-of-school suspensions compared to the same time last year.

Although fights and disruptions have been an area of concern among teachers and principals, a report central office administrators delivered to the OKCPS Board of Education Monday did not discuss fight numbers, only suspensions.

Violence, disruptions

OKCPS adminstrators received blistering reviews from its teachers about violence in their buildings in the annual survey the American Federation of Teachers – OKC (AFT-OKC) carried out during the first semester. The results were released in December.

Out of the 798 teachers who responded to the survey released in December, a significant number reported some sort of violence or disruptive behavior in their classrooms.

To the question, “Which of the following behaviors have students displayed in your classroom this year? (Check all that apply) The behaviors listed below are from the Student Code of Conduct,” teachers responded as to whether they were seeing a particular behavior. These were the results showing the percentage of teachers responses in the survey:

69% – Abusive language, profanity or behavior
82% – Ignoring requests by faculty and staff
88% – Disrupting the learning environment
50% – Distractions to education such as misuse
37% – Threats of harm to self or others
43% – Bullying
33% – Assault/and or battery against another student
19% – Assault/and or battery against school personnel

Teacher survey comments

Comments from teachers were also allowed on the survey. Not all of them were negative or dealt with violence in the schools. But, some did. This is a small sample.

Some teachers connected the violence to the Pathways to Greatness (P2G) plan instituted this school year which involved large-scale consolidation of schools throughout the district.

“P2G has created a hostile environment at our middle school. Fights have escalated,” said one teacher.

“We are seeing more behavior problems in the classroom and school-wide, more fights, more profanity, more disrespectful behavior,” reported another teacher in the comments.

Yet, another teacher wrote about “repetitive abusive language to a teacher, threatening a teacher, walking out of classrooms without permission, multiple fights almost daily.”

One teacher in a school that had combined three others described the environment from the standpoint of childhood trauma and the trauma it creates with teachers, administrators and staff.

“The students in the building bring so much trauma that the teachers in the building are not equipped, even with professional development, to handle the day to day struggles we have,” the teacher wrote.

“Our administration is great and really helps, but the morale and mental health of teachers in our building have declined drastically from day one.”

Union president responds

AFT
Ed Allen, president of the American Federation of Teachers – OKC. The union represents teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Taken in April 2018 at the Oklahoma Legislature. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

In an interview with Free Press right after the survey was released in the fall, Ed Allen, AFT-OKC president, talked about what he is seeing from the survey and from what he is hearing from teachers.

“I hope I’m wrong on this. I hope P2G is the answer,” said Allen. But, without addressing our dysfunctional culture and the chronic discipline issues, I don’t see how you overcome [the problems].”

Allen said it would not be easy to address unless the district spent “some big bucks.”

“We probably need to hire an additional hundred counselors or social workers just to deal with those traumas,” said Allen.

Administrators respond

After the AFT-OKC survey results were released, Superintendent Sean McDaniel issued a prepared response.

“All information is good information. District leaders are closely examining the survey data, along with the feedback we regularly gather directly from our valued educators via my Teacher Advisory Committee, our school site visits, and other one-on-one interactions with OKCPS staff. We deeply appreciate our partnership with Mr. Allen and his team at AFT, and I look forward to working closely with them in the days ahead.”

Then, after the OKCPS Board of Education meeting Monday night where suspension numbers were discussed, we talked to McDaniel about the issues discussed in the meeting.

“There are red flags all over the place with regard to student behavior,” said McDaniel. “So, let’s identify the issue.”

However, actual fight numbers were not discussed in the open meeting. Instead, administrators chose to talk about suspensions and how teachers, administrators, and staff could become more consistent in applying the Code of Conduct and more aware of implicit biases that may be causing the disconnect between school and student.


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