Students walking through the doors of Baltimore City Public schools come as-is.
So when some students carry trauma or lack the social tools to manage feelings of anger or rage, it is the entire community’s responsibility to find solutions that keep teachers and students safe.
That was the sentiment a panel of six community and school district representatives shared Monday night at the district administrative building with a room of about 100 concerned community members, faculty, parents and students.
In recent weeks, three viral videos of students physically harming teachers in the Baltimore City Public School District have drawn outrage from community members.
In November, a video showing a student hitting a Frederick Douglass High School teacher in the face went viral. A few weeks later another video of a student allegedly assaulting a cafeteria worker at the National Academy Foundation School of Baltimore made similar rounds online. A third video also went viral, showing a student punching a physics teacher at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.
District officials put together Monday’s panel discussion to feature experts, including district administrators, community outreach workers and students themselves answering questions about safety within Baltimore schools.
The two-hour discussion, which was broadcast on Facebook Live, covered a variety of concepts, including trauma among the student body, the need for de-escalation training and a call to move away from punitive responses in favor of prevention initiatives.
City Council member Brandon Scott said he was put off by some of the online comments he saw attached to the videos of the students’ violent outbursts in recent weeks.
“The comments that you see online say ‘those kids’ — they’re our kids,” Scott said. “If you’re living in this city, these are your children, too. And especially for the folks [who] are my age, it wasn’t that long ago that they were saying the same exact thing about us.”
Throughout the discussion, panelists and audience members spoke of the trauma that some Baltimore children experience outside schools that affects behavior.
“We have to invest more dollars in treating not just the whole child but the whole family and understanding that our communities are suffering from trauma that we’re not dealing with,” Scott said. “Violence in our city is a disease, and you can’t just treat one symptom of a disease.”
Some audience members were critical of the panel’s composition for including just one student and no school principals.
One audience member who identified himself as a sixth-grade teacher asked schools CEO Sonja Santelises which portion of the problem of school violence the district could take direct responsibility for.
Santelises said some schools in the district have an uneven share of challenges, meaning less-prepared teachers have in the past been placed in schools with higher concentrations of needs.
“We set up a tinderbox that then exploded,” she said.
Panelist Ebony McKiver, a teacher at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, said she hoped those in attendance Monday would walk away with an understanding that it doesn’t take a crisis to get involved with local schools.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is we’re engaged when the district doesn’t call a snow day,” McKiver said. “We’re engaged when there’s a video of a teacher being assaulted. But, being in a school building every day, I’m lacking the engagement.”