Last week in Sutter Creek, California, an elementary school teacher was attacked and beaten by a father who became incensed when he arrived at school and saw that his daughter was wearing a face mask. Actually, the story was a bit more complicated than that. When he saw his daughter was wearing a mask, he started an argument with the school’s principal. When that argument became heated, a male teacher at the school intervened and was beaten so badly by the father that he went to the emergency room for care.
Are we going to be hearing about more episodes like that in the coming months, while students across the U.S. are returning to classrooms? It could well be. And the prospect, of course, is frightening. Just when educators have been attending training sessions on how to deal with “active shooter” situations at work, the arrival of aggressive, anti-mask parents could be the straw that breaks teachers’ resolve to do all they can to protect children.
What Can a Teacher Do?
“A teacher should do all he or she can to avoid intervening in a situation like the one that took place in California,” says a psychologist we interviewed, who did not want us to use his name in this article. “The better course is always to try to disengage from a potentially violent confrontation by deescalating the conflict and, if possible, withdrawing.”
That is good advice. Yet there are times when it becomes necessary, or nearly so, to become involved. We assume that is what that male teacher did in California; he did not want to become involved in an altercation with a parent, he only interceded when he felt that his principal was in actual danger.
So what preventative measures can teachers take?
Remember, student safety is the top priority. Of course, we want every member of our school communities to be protected from any form of violence, or even from the threat of violence. But students are the ones whose safety must be considered first. So teachers and all members of their school administration should review safety plans with that priority in mind.
Review plans that are already in place to address violent episodes in your school. These plans, which were probably drafted several years ago, will contain information that can be useful as you create new plans to address future incidents. Many plans, for example, have instructions on how to communicate the fact that an incident is taking place. Also, they designate areas of schools that can be secured from violent individuals who are on the campus.
Involve local law enforcement in making new plans. Teachers, administrators, as well as local law enforcement agencies, should take part in drawing up new plans and procedures for dealing with incidents. And clearly, any school or campus security personnel should have a role in reviewing and drafting procedures.
Carefully and consistently communicate school policies regarding masking and other safety protocols to the entire community. These communications can include informational meetings for parents where policies are explained. Specialized newsletters and memos can be distributed. Above all, resist the temptation to think that sending out one email to the community will be enough. The use of masks is such a “hot button” issue that policies should be reinforced often.
Establish a place and protocol for parents who wish to express objections or concerns about masking and other issues. Having a place to air concerns will not prevent parents from becoming frustrated or upset, and it might not have prevented that incident in California from happening. But if parents are informed that there is a way for them to discuss their concerns – and take part in formulating policies – that might just exert a calming effect on frayed nerves.
Teachers Must Not Be Exposed to Danger
Teachers’ responsibility is to provide instruction to their students – not to serve as the first line of defense against violent individuals. Teachers must be safe!
If your school administration is not doing what it should to protect your students and you from threats, resist the temptation to think that it is up to you to be a hero. We would encourage you to join with other teachers and administrators to demand that policies are put in place that defend your students – and yourself – from threats of physical and psychological violence.
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