By Dallas Morning News Editorial
A Frisco teacher quit her job late last year after claiming that her school’s leadership failed to protect her from student threats.
It’s a shameful story, but sadly just one among many stories about a growing throng of educators who have had enough with kids whose bad behavior doesn’t seem to lead to any consequences. Schools have got to find solutions for this right away and keep it from devolving into the next culture war debate.
Kacie Smith taught school for 20 years, the last 11 of them in Frisco ISD. Last semester, she was alerted to the existence of “an entire Instagram account dedicated to hatred toward me,” she told us. The account has since been removed from Instagram, but screenshots Smith sent us expressed intense anger and included mentions of rocket-propelled grenades, and doing “things that will violate the Geneva convention.”
“I didn’t feel safe,” Smith wrote in an email to us. We don’t blame her.
Smith said she reported the account immediately. Liberty High School principal Stacey Whaling alerted the Frisco Police Department, according to a police report dated Nov. 7, 2022. That seems to be where it stopped. According to the report, Liberty’s school resource officer “reviewed the posts and found them to be mean in nature but did not contain any overt threats.”
The officer told us he is not authorized to speak to the press and referred us to a police department spokesperson. Sgt. Stephen Byrom said in a statement that, “It was determined there was no actual threat made toward anyone.”
Frisco ISD Communications Director Jamie Driskill said the district takes every threat seriously, but also considers mitigating factors such as whether the student actually has the means and intent to carry it out.
No one involved seems to think the student actually had access to military weapons. It’s reasonable to think these posts were simply sophomoric teenage angst. Still, even if we credit there was no actual threat, this is disrespectful behavior that can’t be tolerated, especially in the current climate with news stories about schools missing warning signs leading to tragedy.
Smith asked for her school to confirm the student’s identity. She was refused that, she said. She asked for the student, who was known to law enforcement, to be removed from her class. That request also was denied, she said.
Smith never returned to her classroom. She told us that the student was given two days of in-school suspension, though district officials wouldn’t confirm that, citing privacy law.
The specifics of this case are unsettling, but, sadly, not unique. Students are acting out. According to a Department of Education report, there was a 56% rise in “classroom disruptions from student conduct” and a 48% increase in “acts of disrespect towards teachers and staff” last year. More than 80% of public schools reported “stunted behavioral and socioeconomic development” and about 70% reported increases in students seeking mental health services since the start of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 lockdown isn’t the only disruptor this generation faces. There is chronic fear and worry over school shootings. There are divisive political issues which seep even into the youngest grades, as recounted in an op-ed by Allen High School junior Ishaan Gupta earlier this month. And there are troubling trends for their future, like the soaring cost of college, and the very real possibility of being the first (or second) generation to earn less than their parents.
The kids are not alright. They need support. They need clear boundaries and fair consequences. They need parents, educators and police on the same page. Many need mental health services.
Where we’re most likely to go wrong is if these issues become politicized as so many other issues have been of late.
Progressive educators have promoted restorative justice techniques, such as those at Savanna High School in Anaheim, Calif., where counselors opened a “relaxation room” so that students can talk out their frustrations, according to an Associated Press report. Conservatives often favor a more punitive approach. Neither is a satisfying answer, and educators need the leeway and the support from administrators to work with parents on appropriate disciplinary action.
Smith said there were other factors that contributed to her decision to resign: low pay, battles over culture war issues, declining respect for her profession. She’s not alone in feeling that way. Texas lost almost 43,000 teachers last year. A survey of Texas teachers by the Charles Butt Foundation released last fall found that 77% have seriously considered quitting, up 19 percentage points in the previous two years.
Those are problems. But no teacher should be expected to remain under a cloud of online threats.
This is an issue schools have to get right, and that will only happen if everyone pulls in the same direction for the good of the next generation.