Proposed Legislation Addresses Aggressive Student Behavior and School Safety

Bipartisan legislation dives into the issues of violent student behavior and school safety.

North Dakota Senator Erin Oban says she’s heard from teachers statewide. They are facing escalating challenges with students, whether they’re being aggressive with their peers, teachers or even bus drivers.

She says it’s time to start keeping track of how often incidents happen in schools and the impact they have.

The goal is to bring together lawmakers and schools for a discussion focused on safety, and hopefully, come up with a uniform system for reporting any problems.

Senator Oban explains, “It’s just become so much more noticeable to the point where it is distracting from all students’ ability to learn. And what we want is for all students and all professionals to be in an environment where they’re safe and where they’re able to succeed.”

She says there’s no clear answer to tackling safety and behavioral issues in school which is why a study to get this started is her first step. 

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Bismarck Public Schools has seen 343 incidents of school safety concerns. Of those, 70 percent involved aggression toward peers and staff. 

KX News talked to a Bismarck teacher who has first-hand experience with the issue Senator Oban’s legislation is looking to address.

Pam Aadnes is a teacher at Legacy High school. In her twenty years with Bismarck Public Schools, she says student behavior has become more aggressive.

The special education teacher adds, “Anything from shouting, screaming, to trashing a room, or hitting or throwing things at staff or other students.”

She’s taught both elementary students and high-schoolers, and has seen this type of behavior at all grade levels.

Aadnes explains, “Sometimes because maybe they’re not ready for school, or that they’ve had some kind of trauma or abuse.”

Simle Middle School Principal Russ Riehl says you never know what a kid is going through or what’s happening at home.

He says schools need more tools to fit every kid, so outbursts don’t continue to affect the entire classroom.

Principal Riehl shares, “How to address those kids and the kinds of things they come to us with and the experiences they have experienced is stuff that we can’t even imagine as adults. So, how to find that spot where we can all kind of work together, we can all let down our guard; show some vulnerabilities and of course, move forward.”

Bismarck teachers expressed safety concerns during negotiations in 2017. As a result, Bismarck Public Schools formed a Health and Safety Committee, and they are already collecting data about incidents in the district.”

Aadnes says, “The data is never intended to be punishing or to say a teacher isn’t doing their job, or a student is in a wrong placement. It’s just to bring an awareness of what’s going on in our schools so solutions can be sought after.”

Bismarck teachers now have a way of documenting instances, so the district can keep monitoring behavioral issues, figure out where they’re stemming from and what they can do to improve it.

Whether that means staff training or extra resources for students and teachers.

Riehl adds, “So we get this information, what do we do with it? You know, and I think that’s going to be the critical step.”

ND United President Nick Archuleta says Fargo and West Fargo are the only other districts with a similar committee and reporting system.

He says we need all districts to be doing this, and for them to be doing it in the same way.

Riehl agrees, saying we need a uniform reporting system for the state in order to make effective, lasting change, which is what they hope to get out of the new legislation.

The teacher, principal, and ND United Director are all on board with the legislation, saying it’s a necessary step for the state.

If you want to read the Resolution for yourself, here’s a link to the full text: 

https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/66-2019/documents/19-3078-01000.pdf.

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