It was Emily Hill’s ninth year teaching kindergarten when she decided to resign from Cache County School District in late October 2019.
Weeks earlier, before school started, Hill did not anticipate this would be her last year in a classroom, but the behavioral issues of a student and the lack of support compelled her to leave.
According to her attorney, from the first day of school it was readily apparent that a particular student required help. And although, according to her attorney, Hill approached administration several times to obtain the help for the student that the law requires, she did not receive it. Up until Hill left, she repeatedly suffered physical as well as emotional injuries, her attorney alleges.
Gary Thomas, the CCSD executive director of elementary education, said the behavioral issues and lack of support were not listed when Hill resigned, but overall, behavior issues are becoming more prevalent in schools.
“We are seeing those behaviors more often,” Thomas said. “We are a growing district and as we grow, we are seeing more behavior than we have in the past.”
In response to questions about Hill’s experience, Thomas said in situations like those there are usually multiple meetings between the teacher, principal and behavior team to set up plans.
“That has always been the case, no question,” Thomas said. “Sometimes our hands are tied with federal law and what we can and can’t do, but we operate within those and do the best we can.”
Thomas said he has recently talked to a teacher from Ogden who shared concern over how to handle behavior problems in classrooms. It is a worry for other schools around the state as well, and a quick web search renders more stories of the same nature nationwide.
In an early morning meeting with the community and local legislators, Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, said he recently met with administrators in CCSD about behavior issues.
“It is very difficult in schools when there is a kid who is very reactionary,” Johnson said. “It is amazing the temper tantrums and destruction they show.”
According to Hill’s attorney, along with hitting, kicking, screaming and spitting, Hill had a bruise on her shin and forearm, a smashed and bruised big toe and a sprained ankle. Her attorney said that Hill’s safety and the safety of others was jeopardized daily, and the fundamental activities of Ms. Hill’s classroom had become impossible and she is devastated that she cannot now do what for years she has loved to do.
Johnson, a career educator, said because teachers can no longer physically restrain the students to calm them down, oftentimes the student remains in the classroom while the rest of the class waits in the hallway waiting for the throwing of chairs, yelling or hitting to stop.
“That doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “I get pretty upset about that. The role of a teacher has really, really changed.”
HB 92, which was introduced and signed into law in 2017, amends state law and sets limits on how a teacher can physically restrain students. The bill clarifies the difference between restraint and a physical escort. A physical escort, a temporary touching or holding of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder or back for the purpose of guiding a student to another location, is allowed.
However, Johnson said that many times teachers feel like they really can’t do anything out of fear of a lawsuit or for their own safety.
The school district encourages students and principals to use a multi-tiered system for dealing with behavior. Thomas said this map goes through and shows principals and teachers what to do next.
“It is a work in progress though,” Thomas said. “We will see if there are any changes as we start new programs.”
There is a new grant in the CCSD to implement more mental health support in schools by bringing in counselors and social workers. Thomas said this allows for more understanding about where the behavior comes from and how to handle it better.
This new feature, along with professional development with teachers, is just part of the plan to address these growing issues.
Thomas said the district has recognized the need to have a regular education behavior position for the students who are not eligible for special education but need some extra assistance. He said they have just recently taken an elementary principal out of her school to pioneer that new program.
Thomas said these changes are due to more and more instances of behavioral issues getting out of hand in classrooms.
“It should be especially noted,” wrote Hill’s attorney in a statement, “Ms. Hill has significant experience in helping students of all walks of life, including those with behavioral problems, learning challenges, and disabilities. This was not an instance of discord between a teacher and a student. This was an instance of an employer, the school district, not doing its part, and leaving a very competent teacher with nowhere else to turn but away and towards the door.”
According to her attorney, Hill has sought reprieve from CCSD by way of an internal grievance and a Notice of Claim, but the district has not responded.