Union questions using fight videos to punish teachers

Union questions using fight videos to punish teachers

WOONSOCKET – The practice of fighting in school has been around for generations, probably as long as students have gathered to learn in classrooms.

But a relatively new phenomenon is drawing concern among teachers and administrators. Thanks to today’s cell phone technology, students now have the ability to record fights and instantly post them on social media, putting them out for public consumption or review by school administrators. The use of such videos to punish teachers is now drawing questions from local educators.

Woonsocket Teachers Guild President Jeffrey Partington, at the Jan. 23 School Committee meeting, raised concerns about the use of student-filmed videos to enforce disciplinary policies. According to Partington, his comments were spurred by a disciplinary action taken by the School Committee earlier that month against a female staff member who was penalized for actions taken while trying to break up a student fight. The fight, which took place last fall, was captured by a student video that was turned over to administrators, leading to the disciplinary action.

Partington’s objections lie in what he describes as a lack of clear policy on what staff members are and are not allowed to do when breaking up student fights. The issue, he said, is heightened by the use of a student film as evidence against a staff member and the common practice among students of filming fights. Without a clear policy, he said, staff members will be nervous to break up student fights in the presence of cell phones.

“We need a policy. These things are going to happen all the time. They do happen all the time. They happen in the community, they happen in school,” he told The Breeze.

Partington also urged administrators to consider a policy disciplining students for recording fights. The fights, he said, have become something of a spectator sport among students, who stand ready with cameras when they hear of a fight between their classmates.

“It’s blood sport. Everybody loves a fight, I guess, and they’re filming it,” he said.

School Committee President Paul Bourget told The Breeze that, contrary to Partington’s assertions, the district does have a policy that governs how teachers should behave toward students during a fight. While teachers do not receive specific training on breaking up fights, all staff members receive Crisis Prevention Institute training covering physical restraints and disciplinary actions toward students. That training, said Bourget, applies during any teacher-student interaction, including while breaking up a fight.

“The policy is there. And they didn’t like the decision that the School Committee made, but it was well thought out,” he said. “We looked at the evidence.”

Bourget acknowledged the district’s policy on responding to student fights remains open-ended, with staff members allowed, but not obligated, to attempt to break up a fight. Woonsocket High School currently has one school resource officer who could respond to calls for assistance in case of a fight, with another due to start soon at the middle schools and two more in March, bringing the district total to four.

“Typically, they are the ones who are going to get involved in breaking fights up. But teachers have in the past and will continue,” he said.

Supt. Patrick McGee also pointed out the difficulty of creating a set policy for breaking up fights given the variety of circumstances and teacher comfort levels in such situations.

“I would never want a teacher to put him or herself in a situation where they could get injured themselves,” he said. “If an administrator can be called immediately or a resource officer could be called immediately, we would prefer that to happen. There are times when teachers do (break up fights). We don’t encourage that, and we don’t discourage them from breaking up fights.”

McGee agreed that the rise in recording of student fights, which started around the time students began taking cell phones to school, poses a potential problem and changed the nature of student fights. He said administrators were considering instituting a policy against videotaping fights when the student recording the fight could be clearly identified.

“What sometimes tends to happen is if kids feel like they have an audience and someone’s filming it, they do it,” he explained.

The presence of cell phones, he said, has changed student-teacher interactions in other ways as well. Parents, he said, sometimes audiotape meetings with teachers over potentially contentious issues. While the district has no intention of trying to restrict those types of recordings, it’s another example, he said, of changing relationships in the social media age.

“If something’s going on, you see people standing by with their phones out,” he said. “It’s just another situation that schools have to deal with with respect to students.”

McGee added that school resource officers try to be proactive in preventing fights by establishing positive relationships with students, sometimes receiving tips to the presence of issues between classmates before fights begin.

Comments

Mr. Bourget is totally WRONG! He said " all staff members receive Crisis Prevention Institute training covering physical restraints and disciplinary actions toward students" That is a falsehood. Teachers are only trained if they SIGN UP for professional development in this area!

If I were to see a child getting beaten up in a fight, my first instinct would be to jump in and help. However, if the ADMINISTRATION were to use that against me, then shame on them!!

Do SOMETHING to protect the teachers who are trying to protect your children!!

If you're going to write something, get all the facts. Not all teachers are CPI trained.

"Parents, he said, sometimes audiotape meetings with teachers over potentially contentious issues. While the district has no intention of trying to restrict those types of recordings..."

In RI, it's legal to record a conversation that you are a party to. The School Department can't legally stop parents from recording a meeting they are part of.

How can Me McGee say it cannot be controlled. Do a no phone policy. Protect your teachers and teacher assistants and everyone else in the schools including other students. What is going on in Woonsocket. He clearly doesn’t care about the schools. I’m ready to pull my daughter out. She goes to Hamlet and although the principal has been good I’m worried for her safety with the way this McGee is saying basically hey it’s the way it is. It’s not just another situation like he says, people are getting hurt do something about it. I don’t blame the adults there for not doing anything if they can lose their jobs. But I would be so angry if my kid was getting hit and a teacher just stood there. The union is right on this one and I’m all for giving them raises too because it must not be a pleasant experience teaching here.Amen

Protect our kids, fighting should not be a routine in the eyes of the superintendent. What is he doing to protect our kids? Please do your job, I’m sure you get paid a real lot of money for sitting up there behind your desk on High Street.

Cell phones have NO business being in schools to begin with! Schools are for educating students. Period. I made it through 12 years of schooling and 4 years of college without a phone! A “No Cell Phone” policy should be the rule! The inmates are running the asylum! (And a cell phone in school is not a right!!!!!!)

Those who are not in education, don't realize what the job of school principal involves. The principal cannot be held responsible for all things that go on in the school, especially high school.There are several hundred students plus faculty members involve in daily activities and they cannot oversee all of them. Not only do they deal with student activities, they also are involved with parental complaints and conferences. Give them a break.

I taught high school in MA for 38 years. I was always happy to see parents and talk with them. We had several parent conferences per year where we would talk about the students' progress and social activities. However, whenever a recording device was brought out by a parent, I ended the conversation. Conversations can be interpreted in several ways (just watch TV for a while). I preferred mine to be face to face.

Lots of ppl love the camera....love acting out in a camera's eye, and let's face it, possibly act-out more so with one around. Ban cell tels inside school. Period. Just like another poster said, we didn't have them when we grew up, and did well. Take charge. Instill firmer discipline. Hold parents accountable. If that means court dates, so be it. Things are getting out of hand all over with this fighting and misbehaving.