Violence against school staff is a serious work-related hazard and a legitimate concern for NJEA members. While it is true that schools are among the safest places in communities, it is also true that physical assaults, verbal harassment, intimidation and threats by students and their parents and guardians are an all-too-common occurrence for New Jersey school staff. Violence is unacceptable and affects the whole school community.
Organizing is necessary to address school violence because nothing else works, especially relying solely on school districts or government agencies to do the right thing. Local associations that want to address violence in their schools need to organize using the NJEA 10-step organizing approach for effective health and safety programs.
Make eliminating school violence a priority and commit to organizing members and allies to pressure district administration for real improvements. Enlist the assistance of the UniServ representative. Insist on the reporting of every violent incident to the board of education and New Jersey Department of Education Violence, Vandalism, and Substance Abuse Incident Reporting System.
Each association should form a union-only health and safety committee, appointed by the president, that works with local leadership and the UniServ representative. Whenever possible, it should include someone from every school and each job classification. It may take time to develop a strong committee. Three or four active people make a great start. Establish a process to receive and respond to complaints from staff.
Copies of district violence and vandalism forms are available to local associations. Any patterns in incident type, location, time of day, or of particular students or staff involvement may reveal the need for changes. The local association canconduct interviews with members who were victims or witnesses to find out more about the circumstances of the incident and their opinions onhow to prevent future occurrences.
Talk to members to determine their concerns about violence. Keep a notebook and take photos when possible. Use evacuation floor plans of the school and mark locations where the committee finds problems. Walk through the school to evaluate existing violence solutions in classrooms, lounges, restrooms, cafeterias, hallways, grounds, and buses.
Inform members about violence issues through association 10-minute meetings, including how to report violent incidents. If the association has a website, create a health and safety page and provide a link to NJEA’s health and safety webpage.
Assist victims of violence with treatment and compensation for physical and psychological injuries. Incident follow-up should include prompt medical evaluation, treatment, and assistance with filling out reporting forms. Follow-up should include information regarding Workers’ Compensation claims for victims and immediate voluntary, confidential counseling, critical incident debriefing, and post-traumatic counseling for victims, bystanders, and others connected to the trauma such as family members.
The responsibility for providing a violence-free school lies with the school district. It is the role of the local association to bring problems to the district’s attention and to ensure that administrators address them. Not all measures for controlling violence are equally effective. Designing the school to prevent violence is the first line of defense. Procedural controls are less effective because they rely on controlling individual behavior.
Local associations can reach out to potential allies and ask them to support their campaign against school violence. Allies can include parents, community organizations, religious and civil rights leaders, and local politicians. The media can help associations publicize their case and possibly shame the district into taking control measures.
Under New Jersey law, all issues regarding workplace health and safety are mandatory subjects of bargaining. This means that the board of education must negotiate with the union on violence issues. A failure to do so would constitute an unfair labor practice.
Things to negotiate concerning violence include:
Vigorous enforcement is critical to making sure the board lives up to its obligations and the contract. This means members must know how to use the contract to advocate for a violence-free workplace.
Local associations have tried using Public Employee Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) complaints to address school violence and found them ineffective. There is no specific PEOSH standard to address workplace violence, and the PEOSH Program is reluctant to use its power to cite public employers who don’t protect public employees from serious recognized hazards not covered by a specific standard. This despite a power the program has through the General Duty Clause found in the legislation that created PEOSH. NJEA participated in a PEOSH advisory Board subcommittee on violence in 2009 and will continue to advocate for better ways for PEOSH to deal with workplace violence.
Design controls: metal detectors, furniture that cannot be thrown, locked doors and windows, small dining sections, internal phone system, good lighting, security cameras, partitions behind bus drivers. Procedural controls: visitor control procedures; ID badges worn by all; hallway pass system; code of student conduct; intervention and referral services; conflict resolution training for staff and students; positive parent involvement systems; designated seating; escort system to parking lots; written policy on never working alone; positive school climate that is nurturing, inclusive, and creates a feeling of community. Note: Always seek to follow best practices based on current research and seek to adopt programs that have been evaluated and are proven effective.
Violence, Vandalism, and Substance Abuse in New Jersey Schools, 1999 to 2008 Reports, New Jersey Department of Education www.state.nj.us/education/schools/vandv
National Education Association Safe Schools Issues webpage www.nea.org/home/16364.htm
CDC Youth Violence webpage www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/YVP/school_ violence.htm CDC School Violence Fact Sheet 2010 www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ SchoolViolence_FactSheet-a.pdf
Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities School Safety and Security – PK-12 Facilities Issues www.ncef.org/rl/safety_security. cfm#13584
Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence Blueprints for Violence Prevention www.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprints
Resource Manual for Intervention and Referral Services, NJDOE www.state.nj.us/education/students/irs