School assaults, by the numbers

Bill Lueders:

In the 2006-07 school year, there were 224 instances in which staff members in Madison schools were assaulted or injured by students, according to records provided to Isthmus. (This represents a significant increase from 2005-06, when the district tallied 173 such incidents.)
Most occurred in elementary schools, and eight out of nine involved special education students. The incidents are mostly minor — kicks, bites, scratches and such — although 43 required some medical attention. Police were called on nine occasions.
Luis Yudice, the district’s safety coordinator, says the most serious incidents were the two reported recently in Isthmus (Watchdog, 6/8/07), both involving injuries to staff members trying to break up fights.
The most startling revelation is the extent to which a handful of students drive these numbers upward. A single fourth-grader at Chavez Elementary accounted for 41 of this year’s incidents. At the middle school level, a seventh-grader at Sennett and eighth-grader at Cherokee had 19 and 12, respectively. And a ninth-grader at East had 10.
Together, these four students generated 37% of the total assaults for the 24,576-student district. (In 2005-06, a single student at Lowell logged 36 incidents; no one else had more than seven.)

5 thoughts on “School assaults, by the numbers”

  1. As schools are motivated to keep their numbers down, I know that not every assault gets documented and the police are not always contacted when they should. I wonder what the actual numbers are for our schools. From what I have heard on other listserves, I think it is much worse than we imagine.

  2. Bill Leuders this is a good start but you didn’t dig deep enough. What you describe is only the tip of the iceberg. Isn’t it time for a real in-depth investigative piece on the subject?
    It disturbs me how nonchalant many in Madison are about serious acts of violence in our schools. I feel we are making our children suffer for our political philosophies. It is one thing if we want to sign up to work under dangerous conditions. It is another to impose this on our children.
    And most of us would not endure a similar situation if the violence that goes on in the schools occured in our workplace.
    You state that 8 out of 9 assaults involved special education students. It might be more fair to break that down into the particular groups that are creating most of the violence. When I hear “special needs”, people with Down’s Syndrome, Autism, and other not necessarily violent disorders come to mind. But while you might not have any problem with someone with Down’s or Ausperger’s Autism working in some capacity at the Isthmus, Bill, how would you feel if the person next to you was a known sociopath? I suppose we can call criminals special need but it seems to be missing something.
    And now about the numbers. I can tell you from personal experience that 2 severe acts of violence happened to my elementary aged child in school last year and were not reported to the principal by staff, let alone the police.
    This Spring at Thoreau Elementary, a gym teacher was maliciously attacked by a second grade boy which resulted in the teacher being taken to the hospital by ambulance. The police were involved that time, but for some reason it didn’t seem to make it onto Luis Yudice’s “serious” list in your article. By the way, the line Thoreau gave about the incident was that they had no idea the boy would do something like that. But parents and children who had interacted with him for the previous 6 weeks he had been at the school described him as aggressive and out of control. So why the big surprise? We could probably say the same thing about most acts of violence.
    Madison, along with many cities, has alternative schools for children who are mentally ill and violent. The problem is that the one for elementary age children only has 9 opening per year for the whole district. With our changing demographics, this is highly inadequate.
    The “Above-the-Line” and other behavioral programs may be successful for some children, but cannot be expected to be enough for children who are mentally ill and severely violent. We are doing the mentally ill children a disservice along with tolerating a disruptive, unsafe, uneducational, anxiety provoking school environment for everyone else.
    It’s time to expand the elementary alternative school.

  3. The superintendent and no one on the board perceives school violence as a problem. To them, it’s just the way the world is. Nothing can be done about it, so nothing will be done.

  4. What’s even more tragic is that it’s typically only the ‘serious’ incidents that get attention and consequences. If the “Above the Line” program were taken seriously (and implemented correctly and consistently, to the letter, at every school), then all sorts of more minor – but definitely disruptive – behaviors would be tackled right away.
    When kids see that minor disruptions are OK, then they move on to more major disruptions. It’s basic child psychology: When a child wants attention, he’ll do what it takes to get it. If mild action A is ignored, he moves on to more disruptive action B. If that is ignored or yields little consequence, he moves on to violent action C. Haven’t we all seen this in our homes when our children were toddlers and were learning right from wrong? As parents, we learn to nip bad behavior in the bud, no matter how minor, or we know it will escalate. We have to do that in schools, too.
    Kids need to know that something as “minor” as backtalk, verbal threats, or property destruction (whether it’s purposely sweeping something off a desk or peeing in another kid’s lunchbox when no one is looking), is going to yield consequences. And those consequences can’t just be soothing talk and a candy bar or soda in the principal’s office. It has to be a consequence that doesn’t appear to be a reward, something that indicates that the behavior is NOT alright.
    If MMSD doesn’t start taking minor infractions seriously, they can expect to see major infractions multiply rapidly.

  5. Do you know how many muggings happen by truant students from West High to other students from West High that came from outside (from a university course for example)? I know of two such incidents, one of which was observed by a friend of my son from a classroom. In both cases, people involved did not go to the police for fear of physical retaliation. In either case I have not heard of the school taking any responsive action, because the incidents happened off school premises even as the truants returned back to the classroom later on.

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