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Resources for Educators Regarding Violence in Schools

by Jill Hay

Chief General Counsel


Unfortunately, educators are occasionally faced with violence or threats of violence in schools. School safety is an important topic throughout the nation. Educators want and need a safe environment for themselves and their students. Georgia, like other states, has a law that requires every public school to have a school safety plan. These school safety plans are to be prepared with input from students, parents, teachers, community leaders, other district employees, local law enforcement, juvenile court, fire service, public safety, and emergency management agencies. The plans must provide for coordination with local law enforcement agencies and the local juvenile court system. Although educators must be trained on these plans, many have continued concerns about safety and are unsure about steps they can or should take when it comes to violence committed by students. This article includes resources and import-ant actions educators should take when faced with concerns of violence. Please keep in mind that the discipline of special education students must comply with a separate set of laws under the IDEA and therefore, the following disciplinary actions are not always applicable to these students.

 

First and foremost, be knowledgeable about your school safety plan, other applicable local policies and procedures, as well as the student code of conduct. Identifying, reporting, and addressing concerning student behaviors is critical and can help stop violence before it happens. Document the concerning behavior and report it immediately to an administrator and then to the school counselor and school resource officer, when necessary.


“Identifying, reporting, and addressing concerning student behavior is critical and can help stop violence before it happens.”

 

Student Violence or Threats Toward Another Student


If a student attempts or threatens to inflict injury on another student, it could be considered “bullying” under O.C.G.A. section 20-2-751.4. In addition, any intentional display of force that would give the victim reason to fear immediate bodily harm, or any intentional written, verbal, or physical act that a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass, or intimidate also falls within the definition of bullying. Every school district in Georgia must have a policy that prohibits bullying, and those policies shall have a requirement that any teacher or other school employee who has a reasonable suspicion that someone is the target of bullying must immediately report it to the school principal. In turn, the school administration must promptly investigate and determine if bullying has occurred.

 

Steps to take when a teacher suspects bullying, as defined above:

 

  1. Immediately report the suspicion to administration and follow up with written documentation of the student’s behavior and the method and timing of the teacher’s report.

  2. Check your local policy for further procedures.

  3. Ensure that the parents of the victim are notified.

  4. Even while an administrative investigation is pending to determine if bullying has occurred, have a discussion with administration about how to best protect and support the victim. This includes someone, like the school counselor, interviewing the victim to determine how the victim feels.

 

Student Violence or Threats Toward an Educator or Other School Employee


Every Georgia school district must have policies and a student code of conduct that provide for penalties against students found by a disciplinary tribunal, panel, or hearing officer to have committed any act of physical violence against a teacher, school bus driver, or other school official or employee. O.C.G.A. section 20-2-751.6 (b) Physical violence means: “(1) Intentionally making physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with the person of another; or (2) Intentionally making physical contact which causes physical harm to another unless such physical contacts or physical harms were in defense of himself or herself.” O.C.G.A. section 20-2-751.6 (a) A disciplinary hearing shall be held when there is an alleged assault or battery by a student upon any teacher or other school employee if such teacher or other school employee requests it.  O.C.G.A. section 20-2-753 A student found during a disciplinary hearing to have committed physical violence against the teacher which resulted in harm shall be expelled from the school system or be placed in an alternative education program.  O.C.G.A. section 20-2-751.6 (c) (1) If the local board does not operate an alternative education program for students in kindergarten through grade six, the local board at its discretion may permit such a student in these grades to reenroll in the system. Finally, the school administration, disciplinary hearing officer or the local board of education, may when an alleged criminal action by a student occurs, report the incident to law enforcement for investigation to determine if criminal charges or delinquent proceedings should be initiated.  O.C.G.A. section 20-2-756

 

Steps to take when a teacher has been subjected to or threatened with physical violence by a student:

 

  1. Write up the student and take it immediately to administration.

  2. Obtain a copy of the student code of conduct and review it.

  3. If it is a teacher’s desire that the student be sent to a disciplinary hearing and it is not already being done, request it in writing.

  4. If it is the teacher’s desire that the incident be report-ed to local law enforcement and it is not already being done, request it in writing to the administration.

 

Helpful Resources Regarding School Safety, Prevention of Violence, and Assessment of Threats

 

Dealing with school violence is not something anyone wants to face and an issue that can leave educators feeling anxious and distracted from performing their duties. If you are fearful for your safety or the safety of the students, speak up and report this to the administration in writing.


In addition to your school safety plan, the Georgia Department of Education has many resources available to school districts and educators that address school safety. You’ll find them here: https://www.gadoe.org/wholechild/

 

 

Jill Hay is PAGE general counsel and director of legal services. A graduate of Florida State University College of Law, Jill has a wealth of knowledge and experience in K-12 education law. Jill has served PAGE members since 1994.


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