Violent and disrespectiful classroom behavior has led to a staggering 50 teachers and bus drivers to quit a Florida school district in the last two years.
Brevard County School District, the state’s 10th-largest, held a heated meeting Thursday that offered an unvarnished and often disturbing glimpse into the state of its classrooms.
“On an everyday basis I am deflecting being attacked, scratched, headbutted, pushed, hit,” teacher Alicia Kelderhouse said as her voice choked with emotion. “I’ve had my hair pulled, and pulled down to the ground. I’ve had my throat gone for on multiple occasions. It’s on an everyday basis right now.”
Kelderhouse said staffers often commiserate in the morning to muster the courage to face the day — and that frightened kids are grappling with the same fears.
“I have students who are afraid every day in the classroom,” she said. “It’s just not fair to them. That’s what hurts my heart the most.”
The head of the district’s beleaguered teachers union, Anthony Collucci, recounted recent incidents reported by staffers to school administrators.
One student began masturbating inside a classroom, an act that was recorded by a classmate and posted to a group chat.
Another teacher was hit in the face with a tape dispenser, while a colleague suffered a bite mark the “size of an orange” after a student munched on her arm.
Another educator frequently had to remove all furniture from her class because kids were routinely chucking it around the room or at each other.
One district teacher said behaviors have markedly worsened since the pandemic — but the classroom behavior was already plunging before COVID-19.
“The pandemic was an accelerant to a fire that was already raging,” he said.
The same staffer asserted that sexual misconduct, drug use, theft, violence, targeted spitting and property destruction had become the demoralizing hallmarks of his profession.
Several speakers pointed to the ubiquity of cellphones as a driver of classroom disorder, casting many students as screen addicts no longer capable of sustained attention.
Asserting that a culture of “unbelievable disrespect” has taken hold, one teacher said her kids look at their devices “hundreds” of times each day and keep their earbuds in while lessons are in progress.
“Our students cannot look away from their phones,” she said. “They cannot stop texting.”
Students often tell teachers that they have to wrap up a text message before they acknowledge being called on or addressed in class.
Educators routinely ask colleagues to watch their classrooms for a few moments so they can have a “mini-breakdown” inside a school bathroom, a speaker noted.
Veteran teacher Gene Trent said his colleagues used to call a student’s parent or guardian to address problems — but those efforts have been largely abandoned due to futility.
Trent said previously, a parent would thank a teacher for reaching out and promise to address the situation at home. But in recent years, they often blame the educator for causing poor behavior.
Other parents, staffers said at the meeting, threaten lawsuits for matters as minor as detention.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey recorded a video last month vowing to crack down on unruly behavior inside schools, filming the spot in front of a jail.
Ivey said classrooms have descended into chaos because kids no longer fear consequences.
“As a result, we are losing teachers en masse,” he said, calling disruptive students “clowns” who are impeding the education of their classmates.
Several speakers criticized Ivey at Thursday’s meeting, and highlighted that suspensions are meted out in disproportionately high numbers to black students.
“Our children are not clowns,” said a local NAACP member. “They are not snot-nosed.” He accused Ivey of using “scare tactics” and “bullying” in pushing for disciplinary clampdowns.
Another speaker said the district should emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion in any new behavior code.
“I would feel more comfortable about the discipline policy if I knew diversity was appreciated in this area,” another district parent said. “And I don’t feel it. My fear is that the practices are inconsistent when I hear about the disparities.”
One parent argued that disruptive students — regardless of race — should be removed from classrooms.
“If you are throwing a chair in a classroom, you do not belong there,” she said. “I’m sorry. If you can’t behave, that’s not my child’s fault. My child’s education should not be hindered because that child doesn’t know how to behave. And by that child I don’t mean black, white, Hispanic or any other thing. I mean the child who wasn’t taught how to behave.”
The Brevard board is developing a new disciplinary framework, and will hold future public meetings on the issue.