NORTHGLENN, Colo. — They don’t talk about getting bit and kicked and spit on when you go to school to become a teacher.
But classroom outbursts from children often end in injuries to teachers, according to data from 10 of the largest school districts in Colorado. The list of staff injuries in these districts are riddled with bites, slaps, kicks and pencil stabbings by young kids.
At home, Kacy Gonzalez said her son, Joshua, is “outgoing” and that he “loves people.” At school his behavior changes.
“He was upset because he's dyslexic," she said. "He can't read. First grade, everybody else reads. He can't. When the teacher calls upon him to read, the kids laugh. He could not stand it. He begged me and begged me not to go to school.”
The begging became a constant battle that led to regular classroom outbursts. In Colorado, when teachers believe students are a threat to themselves or others, they’re allowed to physically restrain a child. They’re also allowed to seclude a child, putting them in a “quiet-room” to cool off.
“We have certainly seen where student behavior escalates to the point where they are tipping furniture over, tearing the room apart basically. And that certainly is not healthy,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA).
That unhealthy behavior is explained in detail in district records.
Jefferson County shared the most detailed records. In one case, an elementary student scratched a teacher’s eye, head-butt the teacher in the throat then threw a fist to her face. Another teacher had a trash can thrown at their head, breaking their glasses, leaving a swollen cheek. In another instance, a raging student head-butted a teacher in the face, punched them in the nose, breaking their glasses leaving behind two black eyes.
“It's just kind of water cooler talk with those, my coworkers," said former Adams 12 paraprofessional Brenna Wann. "You know, 'I got slapped in the face today, I got hit with a clipboard today.'"
She left her position at an elementary school after a particularly tough meltdown. It started with a boy in a so-called quiet-room. She said the boy threw his shoes at her and ran outside. The administration's solution was to barricade the fuming boy inside the front entrance of the school and wait out the tantrum.
“He was like a caged animal in front of the entire school for over a half an hour,” said Wann, who is trained to administer physical restraints.
The restraint is often necessary, Wann said. She said her real concern is that she was never asked to contribute to reports for incidents she was involved in.
“None of those questions were being asked of the staff," Wann said. "Like, what did the staff do before you even removed the kid from the classroom. What did the staff do in the room while the kid was in there?”
Adams 12 said a report was filed and that it wasn't necessary to get Wann's input as two other educators shared a firsthand account. They also said the data they're gathering on restraints and seclusions is actually improving.
“We really focus on, what can you do to prevent the staff from having to go to those more restrictive moves like restraint or seclusion,” said Ashley Toomey, special education coordinator for the district.
But how school districts report that information is largely up to them. Of the 10 largest school districts in the state, eight agreed to share their state mandated annual reports with us.
Some were extremely detailed with graphs and charts. Adams 12 and some others include suggestions for district-wide improvement. Others simply report the number of times a child is restrained or secluded. None of them are required to turn in their reports to the state.
Aurora and Poudre school districts did not share reports with us. Poudre did share numbers, though. That district performed nine restraints and 40 seclusions in the 2018-2019 school year.
As of mid-March, Jefferson County had not completed it's report for 2018-2019.
“There's no standard from the top to say, ‘This is how we report, this is what we want to see in a report,’” said Baca-Oehlert. “I think if we had that standard reporting it would help us on driving toward, what is the best solution.”
The solution for the Gonzalez family was to enroll Joshua in an individualized education program.
Kacy said an increased focus on his learning struggles has changed their outlook on his future.
“He has turned him into a little boy who wants to go to school now," said Gonzalez. "He's excited to get on the bus. He's excited to come home and tell me his day."
But that's just one student in a state where districts are working separately to find solutions to this growing problem, leaving some teachers questioning their passion.
“You dream about your students. You can't let it go,” said Baca-Oehlert. “You're constantly thinking about it. They're on your mind. This is taking a heavy toll on our teaching force."
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