Department of Justice report shows trend in negative student behavior

Educators are hopeful the upcoming school year will be back to normal after the past two were hampered by the pandemic, but a report through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) shows negative trends regarding student behavior in school, especially the rise of school shootings.

The numbers from the report reflect data from the 2019-20 school year. The data is studied and published one year after the school year ends.

Because of recent trends, we looked at how parents can aid in a positive student experience.

Some of the math is heading in the right direction: Bullying is down 6% across the last 10 years, and 9% of students experienced gang activity, which was down from 18% in 2009.

Southwest Florida educators agree student behavior and treatment of their peers seems to be evolving.

“You shouldn’t be making fun of them. Treat them nice; treat them good,” said Michael Riley, the student and community liaison with Charlotte County Public Schools. “And if you’re not treated good, we need to know about it.”

Experts said improved accountability and reporting in the school systems have also played a part.

“Even students that choose to bully understand that it can be reported now by a simple push of a button on the school district website,” Riley said. “A student can report themselves or a friend being bullied anonymously.”

DOJ also discusses the increasingly large threat of any parent or educator’s biggest fear: school shootings.

“It just rattles me to think that something like that could happen,” Riley said. “But we know it could.”

Credit: WINK News.

The report shows a massive jump in school shootings that involved a “casualty,” which was defined as a shooting where someone is injured or killed.

That number was 75 in 2020, despite many students learning remote from home, almost triple the number the U.S. experienced five years ago in 2016.

“Unfortunately, this seems to be a way of life everywhere,” said parent Chris Dion. “You can’t get away with it no matter where you are anymore.”

It’s a fear some Southwest Florida families have had to consider. Gateway Charter School had to enter a lockdown last November when a violent threat was made.

The Dion family had their youngest child in the school at the time.

“It was a nightmare,” Dion explained. “His mom got the first text saying, ‘There’s a bunch of police here. Am I OK? Now, they’re all running in with guns.’”

Although no shooting or violence ultimately happened that day, the experience is becoming more common.

FILE Photo of a Lee County Sheriff’s Office response to the report of a school threat at Gateway Charter School in Lee County in November 2020. Credit: WINK News.

Thankfully, schools are responding. With more threats comes more training and preparation.

“There’s training and lessons in the classroom, and some people say, ‘You’re scaring our children,’” Riley said. “We say, ‘No. We’re not scaring them. This is the real world. We’re protecting them.’”

“When we do training for how to respond in a lockdown situation, we have videos targeted K to two,” said Marc MacDonald, the security and safety supervisor for Collier County Public Schools. “That’s a specific group. Then, our next group is three to five. We are tailoring these training videos to their development.”

“It’s good that they’re getting the training, but it is horrible that they have to have that training,” Dion said.

School districts in Southwest Florida are protective of their safety procedures. None of them allowed us to go behind the scenes to show you how they prepare but they did tell us it’s never been harder to get inside a school.

“It’s really hard to get on this campus during the school day without being invited in,” MacDonald said. “It’s just a necessity.”

Every school is now protected by fencing, security cameras and an entry system that requires an employee badge or clearance.

“It’s critical to the safety of the kids and the staff that administration knows who’s here and why,” MacDonald said.

One thing the DOJ report did not calculate is how many incidents at schools started with trouble at home. Educators claim if parents want to help build a happy, safe school atmosphere, it starts before the first bell.

“I think it’s real simple,” Riley said. “Tell their children how much they love them. Tell them what good people they are, build up their self-esteem.”

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Reporter:Peter Fleischer
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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