NYSUT report outlines pathway for safer schools and productive classrooms

Legislative Gazette photos by Will Oliva

With the new school year underway, the state’s largest teachers’ union released 13 recommendations aiming to cut down disruptive and violent events in schools.

According to the New York State United Teachers, there are daily safety concerns for students and educators alike. Educators reported increased incidents of classroom disruptions and violence prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — which continued to rise as students returned to classrooms.

Throughout the U.S., the frequency of school shootings continues to escalate. According to a report from the group Everytown for Gun Safety, in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, there were 193 incidents of gun violence in schools during the 2021-22 school year. That is quadruple the average since 2013. As a result, NYSUT hopes to prevent and mitigate instances of gun violence in its state through their report’s recommendations.

But it is still the day-to-day disruptions, fights and other violent incidents that are causing safety concerns and hindering the ability to teach.

“When everyday disruptions and the epidemic of violence infecting our communities are increasingly coming through the schoolhouse doors, we have an obligation to do something about it,” said union President Andy Pallotta, a former elementary school teacher.

For state and national lawmakers, the recommendations included more funding to hire critical staff like school social workers and psychologists, placing representatives of staff unions on safety committees, supporting proven practices like increasing the available budget for community schools, issuing uniform school safety guidance and strengthening gun safety regulations.

For school districts and school administrators, the NYSUT report recommended adopting prevention strategies with research-based tools like Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Services and social-emotional learning initiatives. Other recommendations listed among the report’s recommendations are reducing class sizes, properly training school staff, supporting mental health in schools, hiring dedicated student support specialists and improving school safety drills.

Gun safety protocols, mental health resources, background checks and the hiring of dedicated staff members are a few of the outlined aspects that can drastically affect a school’s environment and safety for its students, faculty and staff.

“These are the hard issues educators deal with day-in and day-out, but they do it because they are dedicated to helping their students thrive,” Pallotta said. “Our students and staff deserve safe schools, and we’ll raise our voices until they have exactly that.”