Colorado lawmakers search for answers following increasing student aggression towards teachers

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Approximately one-third of teachers in Colorado responding to a recent survey conducted by a teachers union reported incidents of physical abuse by students within the past two years. A proposed bill currently being reviewed by the legislature seeks to address these issues and reduce teacher turnover.

During a hearing on the bill, State Rep. Meghan Lukens, a Steamboat Springs Democrat and former high school teacher, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, noted the widespread prevalence of such incidents, saying, “It’s crazy how many personal stories I’ve gotten from folks in the education space ever since I started talking more about this bill.”

House Bill 1320, which garnered approval from the House Education Committee on March 18 with a 7-4 vote, proposes the establishment of a task force to investigate these occurrences, as well as related issues such as the impact of shortages in special education staff and the lack of adequate funding for student wraparound services. The task force aims to provide recommendations for policy or law alterations to enhance teacher safety.

Results from the Colorado Education Association survey that prompted Lukens to support the bill indicated that 58% of responding teachers are contemplating leaving the field in the near future, citing various reasons. Similar findings have been observed in national studies.

However, striking a balance between ensuring teacher safety and meeting student needs poses challenges, especially when a student’s behavior is attributed to trauma or disability. Educators have highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated mental health issues among students and worsened existing unsustainable special education caseloads.

Kevin Vick, the Vice President of the CEA, shared a concerning anecdote during the bill’s testimony, recounting an incident where a pregnant teacher was physically assaulted by a student. The teacher resigned immediately following the assault, with a substitute facing a similar fate when taking over the class.

Acknowledging the complexity of the issue, Vick emphasized the necessity of a diverse task force to address these challenges effectively, a sentiment echoed by Brandon Smith, a social worker in 27J Schools in Brighton.

Highlighting the impact on educators, Smith recalled instances where staff faced assaults as part of their job, expressing frustration with the lack of alternative solutions for students exhibiting severe behavioral issues.

Erin Kane, the superintendent of the Douglas County School District, emphasized the urgency of the situation, citing a significant number of incidents of student aggression leading to workers’ compensation claims among staff members.

With concerns over teacher well-being looming, Kallie Leyba, the President of the American Federation of Teachers Colorado, stressed the need for immediate action to address the challenges faced by both students and educators.

While the majority of Democrats supported the bill, Republican lawmakers expressed reservations about the effectiveness of a task force in resolving the issue, advocating for more direct actions to address student aggression towards teachers.

Amid debates over the bill’s provisions, concerns were raised about limitations on disciplinary actions and potential consequences for student behavior, with Republican representatives questioning the viability of the proposed task force.

In response to these criticisms, Democratic lawmakers emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of such behaviors and expressed hope that the task force would formulate effective solutions.

The bill outlines the composition of the proposed task force to include various education stakeholders, with meetings scheduled to generate recommendations by June 30, 2025.

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