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Some Florida teachers describe student behavior as 'out of control'

Student suspensions, expulsions reach record highs in Florida
Posted at 6:00 PM, May 02, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. — Images of school fights at a Florida high school are so frequent that there's a social media page dedicated to them. It's the kind of extreme student behavior teachers describe as becoming all too normal on school campuses.

Delia Doss is a veteran teacher in St. Petersburg and sighed when we asked if student behavior had gotten out of control.

"I believe it has taken a big turn to being out of control," she said.

Doss, who has taught elementary, middle and high school students in Florida, said every day seems like a battle against students who taunt, disrespect or otherwise disrupt classroom learning.

"They don't fear anyone, they don't respect, there's no more respect," she told investigative reporter Katie LaGrone recently.

Delia Doss discusses her injuries

Four years after the pandemic reshaped education, Florida teachers said they are still struggling to get student behavior back under pre-COVID control.

During the 2022-2023 school year, the number of students suspended in the state hit an all-time high, with more than 193,000 students slapped with an out-of-school suspension.

According to the most recent data available from the Florida Department of Education, 858 Florida students were also expelled from public school that year.

Student behavior has become so alarming that teachers and staff are even getting attacked.

In 2023, surveillance video of a teacher's aide who was knocked unconscious by a student with special needs in Flagler County went viral.

Raw video shows the attack of a paraprofessional in a Flagler County high school

Former Lee County middle school teacher Stacey Sawyer points to student violence as the reason she decided to leave the profession a year ago.

Stacey Sawyer explains how violence caused her to leave the classroom

Sawyer's fears aren't unusual. In hundreds of teacher exit interviews we analyzed, other teachers expressed similar concerns and described student behavior as a reason they quit. It's "out of control," "extreme" and "absolutely ridiculous" some teachers stated in exit interviews we obtained.

"It drains on you as a teacher," Sawyer said.

Doss agrees.

"I feel like I'm held hostage," she said.

Neither teacher points blame at a single issue.

Instead, they agree the increase in unruly student behavior reflects schools with limited power, phones and social media with too much power and parents, they say, who aren't holding their kids accountable or, in some cases, even contributing to the mayhem.

Delia Doss discusses where changes start

In a video that we recently obtained from a parent, a mom of a middle schooler in Hillsborough County can be seen provoking a fight at a school bus stop between her son and another middle school student.

The video, which the state attorney used to formally charge the mom, shows the parent not only encouraging the fight but also getting involved.

Watch: Mom allegedly drives child back to bus stop to fight another child

According to the criminal affidavit, the classmate's mom "intentionally drove him" to the scene, "encouraged" the fight and started striking the young victim with her cellphone.

That mom has been charged with child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a child.

When contacted by phone, the mother's attorney said there was more to the story but didn't elaborate and didn't return additional calls for comment.

"It's a problem. It's a big problem, and we really need to get a handle on this," explained Vincent de Paul professor Susan McMahon.

McMahon leads the American Psychological Association Task Force on Violence Against Educators, a national task force studying how the increase in violence against school staff is changing the teaching profession.

Susan McMahon discusses her research on violence in schools

Andrew Spar of the Florida Education Association, the state's largest teacher’s union, believes the increase in violent student behavior shows the need for more mental health services at schools.

"For the sake of our country, for the sake of our state, for the sake of our communities, we have to get at the root of the problem with student discipline," he said. "The root of that problem right now is making sure that we have enough mental health services in place."

Doss said something needs to change because student violence is hurting everyone on campus.

"We've never had it like this where you're drained at the end of the day because you're trying to have kids to want to get educated, care about their education, but it's a fight, it's a struggle," she said.

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