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Dealing With Student Threats

| 17 Comments

With urging from teachers, lawmakers in New Hampshire are considering a bill that would authorize stiffer criminal penalties for students who threaten other students and staff. Currently, some New Hampshire teachers argue, students who make threats in school face minimal consequences, and the problem is getting worse. However, critics of the bill worry that it would lead to students being charged for offenses that involve no actual violence or wrongdoing.

What's your view? Do you think student threats in school should be punished as a criminal offense? How big a problem are student threats in school? How should they be handled?

17 Comments

I believe student threats should be taken seriously and students should be given a consequence. At my school, teachers have to deal with students kicking, pulling hair, and/or hitting them. I don't believe this is teaching our children to be productive citizens in society. Not providing consequences for students' actions is sending the wrong message. I belive that if a student threatens a teacher, they should be suspended from school or placed in in-school suspension. I don't think they should be charged with anything unless they follow through. This is my opinion for elementary school. When you get into middle and high school, that is a different story. We need to start at the bottom (kindergarten) and work our way up.

Start at the bottom? Start with the village as Hillary Clinton tries to inspires in her campaign. Phrases with the words kill be banned from the child's life..."I could kill for a piece of chocolate right now". Until we change society and the actions on TV, movies, cartoons how do you decide what is the child's actions or the villages actions. So if you want to start at the bottom start before the child comes out of the womb!!!! Maybe if the consequence were put on the village to be a better example? Censorship? Not in my life thank you. Start at the bottom, we have and we will continue to do what we can.

As I understand the definition of "assault"
, making threatening remarks to any one IS a crimianl offense already. Just apply existing laws as they should be applied.

I believe student threats should have stiffer penalties as well. I am currently going through an ordeal now, where myself and my family have been threatened and harrassed by students at my school. I pressed charges against these guys and the court put them on probation. They also jumped both of my sons. They still continue to harrass and the courts will do nothing about it. I had a list of dates and occassions when we were harrassed and Judge J.C. Cole would not even listen to it. There were also guns involved. Someone chased my son with a gun and we reported it to the police, gave them license plates numbers and everything and they still have not done anything about it. In addition, they broke into my house and stole several items. The courts system wasted my time for 5 months in and out of court and they did nothing. We are still being harrassed to this day.

This needs to STOP now! Make an example of this poor behavior and stop the cycle. Bullies in middle school and high school - become young adult bullies who can not find work because they don't like being told what to do - thus the welfare cycle. They keep quiting jobs because they do not like their boss. Give me a break - don't we all have days like this? Break the cycle, these students are not "too young" to face the consequences. I might also add that they are learning this behavior at home. We will create a better society if this bullying is stopped sooner than later with HARSH consequences.

Certainly threats, as well as physical, emotional or any other form of harassment, against both teachers and students require a response. Responses do, however need to be proportionate and reasonably calculated to end the behavior. Many things do not help, such as:

1). Quibbling over whether the behavior was learned at home or elsewhere (students' worlds are not contained in discrete pockets of influence--home overlaps with school and school-yard, with television, billboards, magazines and other communication, with news and current events, and with home-training or lack thereof of other students).

2). Hyperfocus on punishments and harsh consequences to cure behavior. Not only have zero tolerance policies not diminished the behaviors that they were set out to respond to (weapons and drugs on school property), but they are unevenly enforced with serious consequences for students with disabilities, among others. Personally I don't rest any easier knowing that an offender in my child's school has been "punished" (even if the punishment is removal forever), because I know that the likelihood of the behavior re-occuring has not been diminished.

3). Dumping kids into the court system. If you think school systems are overburdened and under-resourced, spend a few days hanging around juvenile court. It isn't like Judging Amy. Appearances begin with a vast cattle call for public defenders to locate their clients a few minutes before they go to court. This is just the beginning of a series of such appearances--at intervals of a month or more--to go through the response to the charges, motions filed, various people assigned (prosecutor, guardian ad litem, etc), witnesses called ad infinitem. At the end of the day (or year, as it were), the court may lock the kid up or leverage him/her into the same array of services that were available to the school social worker when the incident first occured.

4)Over-reacting in order to give a kid, or their parents, a "wake-up call," (refer to #1).

That said, there are some things that do work.

1). Using explicit teaching to create a climate of respect and tolerance within the school. This really needs to be a K-12 concern. There is a pretty solid basis of research into what works--Olweus and Sugai are two names that come to mind with regard to school climate.

2). Extending the expectation of respect beyond the student population. Certainly teachers (all of them) need to treat students and parents with respect, but also cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers and secretaries. These people are frequently the "front line" when it comes to representing the school in the community.

3) Responding to all threatening and harassing behavior--not just that leveled against teachers, and not only in areas that we are comfortable dealing with. This means acting on clear policies against harassment based on religion, dress, socio-economic-statuse, race, gender AND sexual orientation.

4) Behavioral consequences for violation must include a reflective component. Sending a kid home for three days, or life, doesn't teach anything except that someone is more powerful than they are.

While 'student threats' is a pretty serious matter, the roots of the issue must be understood before one considers assigning consequences to such behavior. The student may be wrong in threating another student, a staff, or a faculty member such a student may well be justified by the circumstances. History and maturation are two factors, among others, that explain such attitude from a student. How long has the student been in a hostile environment? How has the student grown to understand the chain of events over time? The perpetrator(s)may vary from time to time or setting to setting but the situation remains the same. We may assume that the student does not report the ongoing crisis to the administration.

From a pretty different prospective, we have students with a sense of 'learned helplessness',quick temper, extreme views, and so on. Those kind of students project their 'realities' into the educational setting and will keep on taking this attitude because it boosts their 'ego'. Can we imagine those eventualities in preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and beyond? The type of consequence should be a function of the student's understanding of the situation. Criminalizing such attitude is biased because minority students are more likely to take on the attitude in question--minority defined here as any group or individual with a disadvantage in the setting. I believe that there are other means to deter such deviance from students. We are educators and we ought to provide our students with the opportunity to make a difference in their own life. Punishments should be constructive in nature and purpose. I allow my students to fail without counting it against them, as long as the failure results in future success and,later, excellence! This is what education is all about.

I can tell you from personal experience that "letting things go" will only bury you. Our school had a 7th grader who proceded to shove the asst. principal against some lockers, giving the AP a concussion. Because she was protected by the special ed law, very little was done to her as a consequence, even though the AP filed criminal charges against the student. The next year, this same student attacked another student in the gym, sitting astride the student, grabbing her hair, and slamming her head into the gym floor for a "rumor" she had heard involving this other student (which proved to be untrue). While in custody of the school resource officer, the student broke free and attacked a colleague of mine, beating her around the neck and face until the student was restrained. My colleague has had back problems from then on. This being the student's 2nd and 3rd felony assault, he/she was sent away for a while since this now involved the criminal justice system. I cannot help but wonder what would have happened had something been done about this student years before (or even that previous year) that would have been of a more substantial consequence. Why do school systems always have to wait until MANY people are severely injured before something is done about a violent student? It makes no sense to me at all, but I know our school system is so afraid of a lawsuit, they are frozen, unwilling to do much of anything. When are the teachers, staff, and students going to be protected from violent people like this? They should NOT be allowed in teh public school system -- force their parents to put them in a private educational institution. I really feel that if you inconvenience the parents, the students WILL behave because the parents will MAKE them. It has worked at other schools at which I have taught. The administration just has to have the backbone to do it.

I agree with so many who have stated that we need to start with the youngest children. I have fought to have Character Education become a part of the education syllabus. I firmly believe that if we spent more time on Character Education in grades Pre-k thru 2nd, teaching acceptable behavior, we could focus more on the academics in the following years and grades would improve. While I was working with the Even Start program, I pushed the Character Education program and our elementary principle said that while it was a great idea, we as a school system get 'graded' on our academic results. I had my Biology certification, but chose not to teach, because I did not like what I saw going on in the classrooms. While I knew I could control a classroom, my control would not be allowed and I knew that. I have for years talked to my school district about bullying and asked that, while I know the teachers are very busy, they need to be aware of what is really going on. Bullies are very clever and when the teacher realizes that something is going on, it is usually the child being bullied that gets 'caught' retaliating. I asked our district when they built and remodeled to wire the classrooms for cameras to be used by the teacher as deemed necessary. Again, the elementary principle, said that the teachers' union would not go for this. I said that if the teachers were in control of the cameras, it just might be acceptable. This was done in Louisiana and the bullying incidents decrease and grades went up - because the bullies knew they would be caught and the children being bullied lived in less fear. Thomas Lickona, a Professor at SUNY Cortland has wonderful information on Character Education. If only we could make this as important as the academics, the world could be a better place (and possibly honesty and fairness would become important human qualities again!) I have also taught parenting classes, but it seems the ones who attend are really not the ones who need it. Group homes with supervision and parenting guidance for families might be a solution. Consequences that are followed thru with are a very necessary part of child raising. I have raised two boys, both second in their graduating class and winners of DAR and Character Education award, so I have walked the walk and talked the talk. My sister, who just turned 50 and is head of her math department in an upscale suburban school is quitting, because she no longer wants to deal with the students. She is very good at teaching and what a loss this will be.

I have read all of the comments and could not agree more especially with the last one from Sue. We do need to get this negative behavior under control in the early years to minimize the escalating behavior in the later years of schooling. What a wonderful idea to have some type of character education program in Pre-k through first or second grade. Chances are if we start our students on a positive road they will be less likely to follow the path of misbehavior in the future. As a first year teacher I am horrified by the accounts of many teachers who fear for their safety everyday in the classroom, and I truly believe that if students are given the opportunity early on to be a good role model perhaps it might just lessen their negative behavior in the years to come. Why not give it a try it definitely couldn't hurt. We cannot go on pretending the bullying and harrassment are going to stop on their own we must take action to prevent future loss of good teachers and promising students.

We just sent an article to our subscribers to our Problem Student Problem-Solver magazine. It is on our site at http://www.youthchg.com/education.html#classroom

The article is called "Why Do Some Students Become Violent? The Answer Can Prevent a Tragedy."
It actually includes a test of your skills to prevent extreme violence

So many of the comments posted here seem very... I guess negative is the best word. Every person seeks to have influence over his or her own lives, and in my experience with young children, the biggest incentive to aggressive behavior is not getting to make choices and not being heard. I have had my share of kicking and hitting, even a nosebleed once or twice. My response is generally the same: once the tension is diffused, I hug the hitter. And the next day, and the day after that I make sure to give the frustrated child the chance to make choices and be heard. It is always hardest to love the children who most need to be loved.
Yes, I think that there should be consequences for aggressive behavior, but aggressive responses only keep the cycle going. Building relationships with and showing respect to every child you meet, when you first meet him or her will go a long way to making those children respect your own views about acceptable conflict resolution.

Thank you to Jennifer and Sue. You remind me that everything most things that are really important to know are learned in Kindergarten (or before).

I have to say, though, I get very worried when I hear stories like the ones from Janet. The "special protections" for kids with disabilities have not protected them from being the most suspended and expelled kids in most districts. Nor have those protections ensured that they get things like functional behavioral assessments (to tease out the reasons for their reliance on unacceptable behaviors and provide them with more acceptable responses), mental health services, or protection from bullying and harassment by other children who learn how to "push their buttons," in order to watch their tantrums. Sad to say, some teachers and administrators also fall into button-pushing behaviors in trying to establish "power" over kids who challenge them.

I also wonder what different outcomes might be possible from early intervention--not of the get-tough, get them out of here variety--but of the thoughtful and therapeutic variety, set in a school that explicitly teaches and acts on acceptance of all students as a core value.

I do believe that threats towards should be taken seriously. They would be taken extremely seriously within any other profession. It is a shame that it is an assumed risk which teacher undertake daily. The threats of yester days are not the same as the one which are now faced. Students’ shooting anyone was unheard of.

In a sense, I don't believe that any person can truly say what should be done to the child unless you've been on the receiving end of a threat or violent behavior from a student. I've been threatened by a 7 year-old boy 6 times in 5 weeks, and my employer hasn't done anything. I've done a multitude of research, read books, and tried different techniques for this child, but nothing seems to be working. Any time he is corrected for inappropriate behavior, he flies off the handle. One parents agrees that there's a problem, the other is in denial. Will it take him actually holding a knife to me for my employer and parents to listen? And, why does it seem they believe the boy over what I have to say? I'm at my wits end.

for personal: I can certainly empathize with your situation--I am the parent of a child with emotional difficulties. Navigating the system is very difficult. I don't know what you have tried already, but my suggestion, for both you and the student, is to pull in any existing help within the system, even if it is informal. This would include psychologists (your district undoubtedly has them around--most likely their job is to do evaluations for special education, but you might be able to have a conversation about the path most likely to lead to support--and possibilities short of and ED evaluation), social workers, counselors, etc.

I don't know what your employer and the parents may have attempted, but I am guessing if what you have defined as the solution is to make the kid go away you will meet a high level of resistance, while an attempt to get help is more likely to get buy-in. I do know that a threat from a 7 year old is very different from a threat from a 14 year old--having to do with the cognitive ability to form intent to do harm.

One tool that most certainly should be applied would be a functional behavioral assessment--in which a specific behavior(s) is defined and observed in context over time--this requires an outside observer--a teacher can't do it and teach at the same time. The goal is to determine what the function of the behavior is for the child. Threatening the teacher may or may not be the behavior (responding angrily and inappropriately to correction might be). The observer notes what precedes the behavior and what follows the behavior that reinforces it (example--a student who responds aggressively whenever they are frustrated by an assignment may be rewarded for this behavior by being sent to the office--which serves the function of removing them from the challenging assignment). A team works through what they think is happening and tests it (example--the above situation might be tested by providing the student options for simplifying difficult assignments--and changes in behavior noted). If the test indicates that the assumptions are correct, the accommodations are institutionalized.

The FBA comes out of Special Education--however the principles of Postive Behavior Support are really applicable to a general population as well, and are successfull applied school-wide, which may be helpful with a parent "in denial," (if, in fact that is the case--I know I have often been accused of being "in denial" because I don't agree that my son is a hopeless case).

Like I said--I know that navigating the system is very difficult--but I have been waiting for years for a teacher willing to navigate it with me!

My neice recently got suspended for ultimatley threatening to "KILL" another student. (or at least that is what it looks like in black and white)She was physically assaulted by another student and her not being a physical person in turn got mad and blurted it out, not meaning to act on it in any way - she was upset! She now is suspended and has to meet with the Board of Education to determine the severity of her punishment and if she will be able to return to her school next year.

So, ultimatley if she would have reciprocated by physically assualting this girl she would be in less trouble - something is soooo wrong with this picture. My neice is a straight A student who has been reommended for honor classes for the upcoming year by her curret teachers, active in the youth group at our church and would never provoke - unless provoked!

I am having a hard time understanding what lessons we are teaching our children. i just know that alternative school can corrupt a young girl who has not experienced some of the things that the "typical" preteen in juvelnile has been experimenting with!

Any comments or suggestions?

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