PORTLAND, Ore. — “I thought you know what, it’s about time we start talking about this,” said Alisa Sherman.
Mom of three, Alisa Sherman, said she said started getting phone calls from nearly the first week of kindergarten about her youngest son.
KGW’s “Classrooms in Crisis” investigative series into the rise in physical, sometimes violent incidents happening in schools across the state has received an overwhelming response from educators.
Now, we’re hearing from a parent of a child struggling with these disruptive behaviors.
“He’s screaming, he’s crying, he’s acting out. He’s not enjoying school,” said Sherman. “And as a mom I’m terrified, this is not how I wanted to set him up for education.”
She said nearly half of the 28 kids in her son’s kindergarten class have these outbursts.
He’s in a general education classroom and is not a special needs student.
“My husband and I looked at each other and said this isn’t happening at home. This is learned behavior here at school. He’s mimicking what he’s seeing.”
Sherman tried talking to her son, his teacher and his doctor.
“I said, he’s having a hard time, he’s extremely emotional, [has] anxiety. She checked him out and said he’s just not enjoying school and there are some resources at school that will be helpful to him and you need to go back to the school,” said Sherman.
Sherman talked to district officials who told her there are not enough resources, from counselors to behavior specialists, to help her son.
“To know, that there are no resources to help my child is not OK. Because I need help, I need to know how to help my child.”
Sherman and her husband are involved parents. She volunteers with the PTO and in her son’s classroom.
She said her son has not experienced the traumatic events, like homelessness, that some educators believe is causing a rise in disruptive behaviors in classrooms across the state.
A recent Oregon Education Association report blames disrupted learning on several factors including large class sizes, not enough student support and a marked decrease in things like physical education and recess.
“We have no physical education, holidays have been taken away, no celebrations,” said Sherman.
Sherman said the joy is missing in school, pointing out the recent voicemail left by the Parkrose School District sent to parents reminding them not to send their kids with any Valentine’s Day cards or food of any kind per district policy.
“They need these types of things to have emotional balance. And when you take away these things, you are left with a bunch of kids that can’t handle their emotions and then that causes behavioral issues.”
This is something we heard several times while doing follow up stories and interviews after Classrooms in Crisis first aired.
“Have recesses, playtime and not have so much pressure on our kindergartners to meet certain benchmarks,” said Kathy Croker.
Croker retired early from the Hillsboro school district after 26 years as a counselor in part, because of the increase in disruptive behaviors in young kids and the lack of support to help them.
“Make kindergarten more developmentally appropriate. Allow kids to have centers where they learn social skills. They aren’t learning the social skills,” said Croker.
School psychologist Michelle Eddy-Merlot and behavior specialist Sandi Washburn work for the Greater Albany public school district.
“They are simply not developmentally ready,” said Eddy-Merlot about many of the kindergarten students in their district struggling with disruptive behaviors.
They point out, a large majority of students from kindergarten to 12th grade are suffering from anxiety.
“It was rare to see a child with anxiety, now it’s 60 percent. It’s significant, it’s huge,” said Eddy-Merlot.
“The seniors this year in school are the 9-11 kids and so immediately from that point, across the country, our feelings of safety and anxiety went up a notch. We haven’t addressed it,” said Washburn.
"Our kids are taking all of that like a sponge. And in terms of, they can’t process it. How do you make sense of that?” asked Eddy-Merlot.
As for Sherman, she knows she could transfer her son to a district that offers more time for things like Physical Education but worries about leaving his classmates behind.
“If I pull my kids out, this district will lose a voice that speaks out on behalf of all the other kids.”
KGW reached out to the Parkrose School District, where Alisa’s son goes, to see how they are handling disruptive incidents and what plans they have, if any, to bring back Physical Education in elementary schools. Superintendent Michael Lopes-Serrao emailed his responses:
Can you please tell me what the Parkrose school district is doing to address disruptive behaviors in school?
Our district is committed to providing many supports for students and staff. Staff are receiving ongoing training in high-quality instructional practices, learning about trauma-informed practice to help teachers and assistants build relationships that provide a safe and nurturing environment for all students. We are learning about culturally responsive practices to be sure we are connecting to our students and our students see themselves as a part of the curriculum and learning that takes place every day. There are positive behaviors supports in place to illustrate the positive behaviors we expect in our schools.
What, if any, plans do you have to bring back PE to your schools?
Physical Education returning to our elementary schools is a high priority in Parkrose. However, for the 19-20 school year, we face a 1.7 million dollar shortfall in funding based on the Governor's budget proposal. Our district faced 1.2 million in shortfall last school year and has cut 5 days of school this year to save on expenses. We have created an investment plan and PE is near the top of that list. Due to significant cuts in our district, we have not been able to restore PE in our elementary schools. An investment budget in education from our state legislature would provide us the means to meet our Physical Education needs.
What, if any, plans do you have to allow celebrations in schools for things like Halloween or Valentine’s Day?
Why or why not?
I have attached our policy on religious customs and beliefs. We do allow for celebrations in our schools. Our district strongly believes that equity is paramount to our student's success. We do have celebrations in our district, we are working to be sure that culturally and religiously dominant holidays are not overly imposed on our students. We are a district of many cultures and beliefs and more than 40 languages. It's our responsibility that we are observing and learning about the celebrations of the world and not imposing specific holidays on our students. When I use the term imposing I define that as requiring students to participate in holiday celebrations.
KGW has interviewed dozens of teachers and school administrators about an increase in verbal, physical and sometimes violent disruptions in Oregon and Southwest Washington classrooms. We’ve received emails from hundreds of additional teachers who tell similar stories. Many teachers say they don’t have the proper training, support or resources to deal with this disruptive behavior. The teachers don’t blame the kids, pointing out that many students have suffered trauma in their lives; however, they say the current law makes it difficult to handle these incidents effectively. In many cases they are forced to clear all other students out of a classroom until a disruptive student can calm down. We will continue to tell these stories and push for solutions from lawmakers and school officials.
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