ST. LOUIS ( -- It’s a nationwide problem, and school districts across St. Louis are not immune.

Teachers tell News 4 disruptive student behavior is forcing them to clear or “evacuate” classrooms for the safety of other students.

Classroom clears are happening at the elementary level, and it’s an issue that’s causing local districts to evaluate increasing support for social and emotional needs.

Hazelwood School District: teachers now have a place to escape for a break

Margaret, a former teacher in the Hazelwood district, told News 4 “I felt like I was drowning.” After 7 years of teaching in the district she quit two years ago.

Margaret witnessed kids “tearing things apart, walking on desks and tables, and hitting kids.”

She provided News 4 with pictures of curse words written on desks aimed at other students, children lying on the floor failing to follow direction, and pictures of homework assignments torn up and littered on the floor of her classroom.

She said behavioral challenges in her classroom contributed to her decision to quit.

She added, “I know someone who had a concussion from a kid cracking a clip board over their head,” referring to a former colleague.

Margaret said one student’s behavior was so disruptive she would “evacuate” her classroom several times in one school year.

“He was behaving in a way that scared me for the safety of my students and myself,” she said.

There's been an increase in student social emotional issues

Stories of classrooms getting cleared might surprise parents, but it’s no surprise to teachers and educators.

Pat McPartland is president of the union that represents teachers in the Parkway School District.

McPartland said a teaching career is more difficult today than ten years ago. He told News 4 classroom clears are rare in the Parkway District, but contends they do occur.

McPartland said it could be part of a student’s behavior intervention plan. Behavior intervention plans offer administrators guidance on how to handle a student with challenging behavior needs.

News 4 asked multiple school districts around the St. Louis region how many kids are on a behavior intervention plan.

In Belleville and East St. Louis approximately 3 percent of the student body follows one.

In Parkway and Ladue it’s approximately 1 percent.

In the Fox School District it’s less than 1 percent (.25%) of the student body.

News 4 is still waiting for multiple districts to provide numbers, including St. Louis.

Matt Phillips is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services at the Hazelwood School District.

Schools see increase in behavior challenges

He said classrooms get cleared because “one of the strategies is to remove the audience so that you can deescalate the child.” The district does not track or keep data on how often a classroom gets cleared or evacuated.

Phillips said parents of evacuated students are not alerted.

He agrees these situations can be disruptive to the learning environment, but he offers an explanation to the parents of children that are removed from classroom over another student’s disruptive behavior.

"We have an obligation to teach all children and we have an obligation to work with students to not only teach students how to de-escalate and how to regulate themselves," Phillips said. "We have an obligation to other students, the world is changing. The world is a diverse place we have an obligation to help other students that we support kids that are in crisis.”

The Hazelwood School District recently doubled the number of social workers to 13. The district is also training teachers in de-escalation techniques that don’t require physical intervention.

Every school building has a crisis intervention team on site.

Classroom chaos

Many of the buildings also have staff wellness rooms where teachers can decompress or take a break when behavior issues become tough.

The Parkway School District recently convened a mental health task force to deal with the rising social and emotional needs.

McPartland told News 4 there are a variety of reasons behavior challenges occur, figuring out why isn’t simple.

He asked, “Is it caused by a trauma at home? Is it an underlying social emotional disorder that’s not diagnosed.”

Whatever the cause, it’s making teaching more difficult for many teachers including Margaret.

She said, “Another thing was getting parents on board. It definitely starts with the school, but school is not raising your children. We are there to educate your children.”

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All Rights Reserved

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