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Experts say mental health resources needed in schools to help stem violence

In districts across Northeast Ohio, violence is escalating.

CLEVELAND — Bedford City School District will stay in remote learning for the rest of November, while the district hires more social emotional learning staff. Meaning social workers, therapists and extra guidance counselors.

Like many districts, violence in Bedford is escalating.

Bedford police responded to calls of fights and assaults against staff, plus an incident involving a 20-year-old on school property with a loaded gun.

Meanwhile, a fight in Akron Public Schools (APS) last week prompted several suspensions, but capped the tipping point for the Akron Education Association.

The union of more than 2,400 teachers issued a “No Confidence” resolution against Akron public schools security director Dan Rambler, Hearing Officer, Valerie Riedthaler, and the Akron Public Schools Office of Special Education (as it relates to student behaviors) for not following the Code of Student Behavior relating to school violence.

“We had a child that physically assaulted a pregnant teacher this year, the pregnant teacher ended up in the hospital for 48 hours with complications due to the assault, the child went downtown for a hearing and was returned to the same building and the same day he returned, he assaulted another teacher, those are the kind of problems that we have to take a look at,” said Patricia Shipe, President of the Akron Education Association (AEA).

Shipe says the union will meet with new APS Superintendent, Christine Fowler-Mack, next week.

In response to the union’s complaint, APS issued a statement:
"We share some of the same concerns and continue to work through them with the AEA." Mark Williamson, Director Marketing Communications at APS.

Shipe says teachers are already quitting this year over safety issues.

“There have been both loaded handguns and unloaded handguns brought to multiple schools. Just this school year, there have been bomb threats, what the district is calling fights but they were much more than fights,” Shipe said.

The AEA had student severe behavior concerns back in 2018 and Shipe spoke before the APS Board of Education requesting the district follow the Code of Student Behavior and return transparency to the District Expulsion Review Committee.

Shipe agrees with Bedford City Schools about the need for more social emotional learning staff. The problem is often funding. 

Dr. Ben Kearney, OhioGuidestone Chief Clinical Officer, a leading behavioral health agency, says the pandemic isolation took a toll on kids that led to stress and anxiety. He added that extra time on social media and not being able to see friends may have led to pent up aggression as well. He believes some students behavior may have regressed because of limited exposure to more people and adults, but he added that children are resilient and can make up an ground lost. But they need help, and he believes mental health resources in schools is now vital.

“State and federal funding really has to be focused on the social emotional workforce, social workers, counselors, psychologists,” Dr. Kearney said.

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