Anne Arundel County Educators advocate for safe learning environments amid rising threats of physical violence

Mar 23, 2022

On March 16, TAAAC members attended the monthly Board of Education meeting to speak on the increase in violence in our schools. Across our county, campuses are facing threats of gun violence, rising instances of fights and bullying, and deterioration of the mental health of our students leading to other physical safety issues.

“Board members seemed receptive to the solutions educators were proposing at the meeting, but we need resources and support before the school year ends to prevent a tragedy from striking in our district. Our educators need help now to create physically safe learning environments for our students,” said TAAAC President Russell Leone following the meeting.

TAAAC members were advocating for four areas of support:
• Increased recruitment efforts and funding for adequate staff,
• dedicated funding for Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS),
• Time during the student day for restorative practices facilitated by trained staff, and
• consistently enforced physical safety guidelines.

“These four items have been identified by schools throughout the county that have been conducting Safety Climate Surveys, Safety Petitions and pledges, and filing grievances to ensure our students have what they need to succeed. These schools are not limited to one area of our county, one grade level, or the format of the school, but each of our schools are facing widespread safety issues,” said Leone, an elementary educator, in a video statement ahead of the meeting.

At Mills-Parole Elementary where members signed one of the safety pledges to advocate for more staff to address their physical safety concerns, they are already making strides. Cathy Hall Guay, an educator at Mills-Parole and the TAAAC Building Rep, shared their asks and the progress their collective action has made – already educators have received a commitment from their administration to bring their psychologist and social worker to full time positions, and add an additional full-time counselor for the 2022-23 school year.

Educators at other schools such as Phoenix Academy, Meade High, Brock Bridge Elementary, Central Special, Annapolis High, Edgewater Elementary, and Meade Heights Elementary, have also begun conducting these safety surveys with the goal of identifying solutions to the physical safety issues students and staff are facing. Otherwise, educators worry the declining morale in schools will lead to a mass exodus of educators.

“We open the schoolhouse doors, expecting students to go back to learning as if they had not spent over a year in isolation,” said Meade High School teacher Kristina Korona, who testified during the meeting on March 16. The lack of support for both students and staff implemented by the Board of Education is what educators say is a main reason they are seeing rises in physical violence in their schools.

“This is why I’m here, urging you to support schools in implementing social and emotional learning,” said Korona, who is also on the TAAAC Board of Directors. To hear Korona’s full testimony, click here.

On behalf of educators across the county, Laura Bardill also provided testimony advocating for increased staffing.

“I am here to call for filling TA and Crisis Intervention Specialist positions as they are essential to the functioning of our classrooms and schools. Please consider helping alternative schools with PBIS funding as these schools do not have a local PTA,” said Bardill, an eCoach for the Technology Team and as a member of ASI.

“Please protect and expand DMR and RightStart Advisors to help new teachers de-escalate those disruptive behaviors,” Bardill continued. She spoke from personal experience also to advocate for the DMR and RightStart employees to not have to cover classes so they “have the full time to do their jobs.

TAAAC members are hopeful that their advocacy will resonate with the Board of Education and that action will be taken ahead of the end of the school year, as well as into the fall semester, to support the mental health of students and staff to prevent additional physical safety issues from hindering the learning conditions of our school community.

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