Student attacks on teachers worsen in Salem-Keizer, data shows
SALEM Ore. (KPTV) - Back in late August, FOX 12 Investigates reported on how Salem-Keizer School District, Oregon’s second-largest school district, leads the way in student-caused teacher injuries.
Through a public records request on teacher injury reports, FOX 12 Investigates uncovered how since Jan. 2019 until mid-June 2023, there were nearly 1,100 staff injury reports filed, more than double the amount of reports filed in Portland Public Schools in the same time period. Now, new data from Salem-Keizer shows the problem just continues to get worse.
The latest teacher injury report data from Salem-Keizer schools shows this current school year is off to a worse start than the last several years. New data shows 78 student-caused staff injuries between July 11 and October 9 of this year. That is compared to 48 reports filed during the same period in 2022, 33 in 2021, none in 2020 due to distance learning, and 32 in 2019.
Breaking it down by year, there has been a gradual increase of overall staff injury reports filed: 167 reports filed in 2021, 386 in 2022, and in 2023 from the beginning of the year until early October, over 420 injury reports have been filed by staff, already exceeding last year’s numbers, with nearly three more months of 2023 to account for.
The Salem-Keizer Education Association, the union representing teachers in the district, says staff morale is low.
“It is beyond heartbreaking,” said union president, Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg. “It’s also infuriating that these students aren’t getting their needs met, and our staff are not getting the protections they need to show up to work without getting hurt.”
Staff statements in injury reports from this school year describe students seriously hurting teachers. All statements by staff in injury reports obtained by FOX 12 Investigates do not include the name of the staff or students involved, only where and when each incident took place.
In an incident from Houck Middle School in September, one teacher describes how a student caused a serious fall:
“The student was pulling on my arm causing me to trip and fall. I hit the doorframe head-first resulting in a four-inch gash that needed 25 stitches.”
In an incident that same month at Four Corners Elementary School, one staff member describes an attack lasting multiple hours.:
“(Student) punched me in the left side of the head, punched me in the stomach four times, slapped me multiple times, and repeatedly and intentionally punched me in private areas. this escalation lasted approximately two hours.”
Chris Moore is the director of Mental Health and Social-Emotional learning for Salem-Keizer, and one of the district officials in charge of addressing this rise in student attacks. He says from the staff perspective, he’s focused on increasing support for teachers who have been attacked.
“Every one of those staff stories are important, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a lot of those staff members,” said Moore. “As our staff injury reports are submitted, we’ve added another team alongside our safety and risk management to follow up directly with staff afterwards.”
Moore says the district has five behavior intervention trainers, who train staff in de-escalation tactics for handling students experiencing outbursts. Now, Moore says their role has been expanded to responding to teachers who have been harmed by a student.
“Staff can say if they’d like someone to check in for additional support or training,” said Moore. “They check a box on there, and then we reach out.”
Moore says the district also has one behavior intervention center, which is a facility that can hold up to 16 students where they can be sent after frequent outbursts at school. Students work with counselors to improve behavior before returning to the classroom. Moore says a second facility is opening in January. Next spring, Moore says the district is also partnering with Trillium Family Services to open a day-treatment center that can provide behavioral health resources and psychiatric care for up to two dozen students and their families. But teachers and their union representatives like Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg say the changes to address this problem should have been made a long time ago, and promised projects do not make enough of an impact.
“Until just very recently, it still wasn’t being prioritized, and that’s the problem,” said Sialo-Lakeberg. “We’re talking about systematic changes that need to happen to support people and our students. While our district leaders are starting to acknowledge it’s a problem, it needs to be prioritized, we haven’t really seen anything implemented yet.”
Copyright 2023 KPTV-KPDX. All rights reserved.