A Student-Violence Epidemic

By Anthony Rebora — April 15, 2008 1 min read
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The cell phone video of a student’s violent attack on Baltimore art teacher Jolita Berry has stunned viewers nationwide. But teachers in Baltimore say the incident was by no means unusual. “Believe me, this is not news to those of us who have worked in the schools,” said Ronda Cooperstein, a former teacher at Reginald F. Lewis High, the school where Berry was assaulted. “It’s a day-to-day problem, and if it doesn’t happen to me today, it might happen to you tomorrow.”

That’s apparently no exaggeration. In Baltimore this year, according to the Baltimore Sun, 50 students have been arrested and 112 have been expelled for assaulting staff members. State records, meanwhile, show that there have been 515 suspensions in Baltimore this year for student attacks on school staff.

The media coverage of the attack on Berry has at least heightened attention on addressing the problem. Among other things, the district plans to expand mental health and mentoring services for students and to make available additional funds for schools to implement anti-violence initiatives, such as mediation programs.

Some experts also say that teachers and school leaders need more intensive training in dealing with confrontations and defusing potentially violent situations. “Teachers need to sharpen their observation skills to notice when trouble is brewing,” said Rick Phillips, executive director of Community Matters, a California organization. “They need to know how to intervene effectively.”

Yet some emphasize that schools can’t fix the problem alone: “These issues are well beyond the school per se,” noted Anne-Marie Bond, a social work and community-outreach specialist at the University of Maryland Baltimore. “They reflect other layers in the community and experiences students have. It is hard for the school to address this without a more community-wide or city-wide approach.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.