With stories, complaints and suggestions about behavior problems in schools pouring in from around the state, local legislators are trying to figure out how to clarify protocol and offer teachers more support.
When addressing public questions at the weekly local legislators’ meeting on Saturday morning, Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, said the laws in place concerning corporal punishment and the changes brought through juvenile justice reform, which impacted how resource officers interact with students breaking the law, brought some other misconceptions.
“I think that it spread this idea that a teacher or a school administrator can’t really do anything, and that is really not true,” Johnson said as after opening his email to find that in just one hour he received three more emails from teachers around the state concerning this issue.
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 and has caused some confusion. While the bill distinguishes between restraint and a physical escort, some situations might require more clarification.
Johnson, a career educator, said this bill needs to be reviewed and some language might need tweaking in order to clarify what administrators and teachers can do in situations where behavior issues are disrupting classes.
“We need to decide if there are any amendments that need to be done to empower people to do their job,” Johnson said.
Johnson will host a town hall meeting in April or May to discuss this issue and possible adjustments with residents of Cache Valley.
“We need to let people talk about it, gather information and see how that discussion could drive policy,” Johnson said. “That is what I want to do, and we’ve got to do it in the spring so people can be trained and prepared before school starts in the fall.”
He said the struggles with behavior in schools are not limited to teachers, either.
“The problems are everywhere,” Johnson said. “Everywhere from the bus to being in the hallway, the classroom, lunchroom or playground. There is a need for everybody to come together and develop plans that encompass the entirety of this issue.”
The idea for a town hall meeting on this topic came through a conversation Johnson had with local school bus driver Neil Murray.
Murray drives a bus for both Logan City School District and Cache County School District and while he drives special ed students and is used to working with behavior issues. He wants to open a dialogue to address the needs of regular ed students.
“The main concerns I have are similar to teacher concerns about how to manage behavior under the law as it is written right now,” Murray said. “We should change the wording in the bill to give teachers a chance to not only remove violent students from a situation but also disruptive students from a situation.”
Murray wants to gather other ideas from the many different people that are affected by these situations.
Not understanding completely how to handle these situations, Johnson said, can affect students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents, as well as add to the difficulty of teacher retention.
“The main reason teachers leave is not money; that is one thing, but the other thing is the difficulty they have with all the stuff that is placed upon them and what makes it harder is when they don’t feel like they are supported,” Johnson said. “That is a very terrible place to be in Utah. We have some work ahead of us.”
Alyssa Simms is in her final semester of USU’s Elementary Education program and has discussed classroom management in almost every single one of her classes.
“We have to think about how we can protect ourselves and the other students,” Simms said. “As a teacher you have a complex about not being able to touch the students but also you can’t let those students hurt themselves or others. I don’t have the perfect answer.”
As far back as she can remember, Simms wanted to be a teacher. While that desire hasn’t diminished, the fear of managing classroom behavior is present.
Simms said she recognizes that the No. 1 reason teachers quit in the first five years is linked to classroom management problems. It can be hard when every intervention program comes with an asterisk stating that it might not work, but she tries to step away from the situation and look at the reasons students might be acting out.
“We are taught to try to prevent incidents and to have a plan when they do happen,” Simms said. “But each individual student and each individual situation is so different.”
The local legislators’ meeting is from 7:30 to 9 a.m. every Saturday during the 2020 Legislative Session.
To learn more about what conversations are taking place among the legislators about this issue, contact Rep. Johnson at email@example.com or (435)770-7051.