Drawing the Line
October 4, 2022
October 4, 2022
By Bonnie LaFountaine
Let me begin by saying that this is very difficult to write. However, I do so because I know that I’m coming from a place of honest compassion and true concern, and that I’m writing for my students and for all children. I also do so because when I speak with school board members and other education policymakers, they tell me they wish educators would speak up more about the issues that concern them most.
I believe we have done an injustice to our students and to society at large by teaching kids and their parents that discipline in schools is no longer a “thing.” All confirmed bullies must be suspended, and we must have zero tolerance for any and all death threats, and for any weapon or ammunition brought to school. The tragic school shootings in Texas and Michigan earlier this year need to be a wake-up call to all school districts that more can be done and more needs to be done!
I wish I wasn’t writing from experience, but I am. Last December, a child in my class brought a bullet resembling a piece of 9mm or .308 ammo into my classroom. It was done accidentally, but when other students realized it was there, some gasped loudly, a few jumped back, a few began to cry, and others began talking all at once. Several continued to cry after school and express how afraid they were.
The bullet, sadly, did not surprise me. What most definitely did, however, was the lack of consequences. The reaction felt mostly like “next time, there will be consequences.” It’s difficult for me to blame our school division because, from what I understand, it’s done everything in its power in light of the pressure coming from the state that “suspensions lead to drop-outs.” As a former dropout myself and a woman raised in a violent and sexually abusive household, I disagree strongly with this.
My personal feelings and experiences with this student do not matter: It doesn’t matter if I don’t see him as someone who would ever harm another human. It doesn’t matter if I think he’s a wonderful, loving kid. What does and should matter is that this same child threatened other kids several weeks before he brought the bullet to school that he was going to kill them, slice them open, remove their organs, and sell them on the black market. Do we really want to see what “next time” would be?
The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and those in far too many other places, should be the warning that it could have easily been “this time.” My children…our children deserve better than this. We all deserve to come to school knowing that our school buildings are safe. Unfortunately, it is blatantly obvious that many students, teachers, and staff no longer feel that way. There are a number of parents I’ve had over the years that continue to confide in me with their fears and concerns. There are a number of teachers from all of our schools that I bump into who share examples of their frustration and concern for their students. There are support staff members that work at each of our schools that find solace in confiding in me. And, the various students that find me… oh my goodness!
I know I’m not the only person listening. Even my primary care physician has said that our area seems to be brewing with hostility and anger.
The magnitude of frustration over the accepted violence, the hostility, the growing lack of support, and the severe lack of consequences is growing. On a teacher note, I can confidently say that this pandemic has not been the cause of teacher burnout; it’s only magnified what teachers were already dealing with. It is the lack of consequences that force teachers to personally manage way more than they ever have had to before. We must manage classes that are corrupted with behavior problems, angry student reactions to these behaviors, fearful and tearful traumatizing reactions to these behaviors, and then having to, in addition, manage our own personal magnitude of emotions.
My own son developed anxiety after entering third grade last year. He had to witness violence, anger, and destruction from some of his classmates. Reading is already a cause of some anxiety, but so is his classroom. I, as a teacher in his building, know that he is often not in a safe environment. As his mom, I fear any kind of traumatizing experience and I hate the fact that school is becoming one of the most traumatic places in his life.
When and why did going to school become a traumatizing experience? Why are we forcing students, teachers, and staff to manage all these behaviors? When will public school policymakers and administrators find the backbone to do what must be done to provide students and educators with the safety we need and deserve?
Bonnie LaFountaine is a member of the Greene County Education Association and a fourth grade teacher.
Teacher shortages are a serious issue across the country. Here in Virginia, there are currently over 1,000 unfilled teaching positions.Take Action Now