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KOLD Investigates: Bad behavior on the rise at southern Arizona schools

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 3:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A fight erupts in a Sunnyside high school cafeteria.

It happened in September and the news spread fast across campuses.

They had three fights in one day, and one of the fights is over a cheeseburger,” student Madisynn Marsh said.

The fights caught Superintendent Steve Holmes by surprise. He says behavior problems emerged after students were back for a bit

Violent incidents involving students are on the rise in some of our schools in southern Arizona.

Education leaders say the pandemic is likely the culprit as students adjust to being on campus again.

This isn’t just a local issue.

Teachers and schools across the nation are reporting a rise in everything, from minor misbehaviors to fights.

It’s been building with many kids, and stress levels remain high.

Education leaders say many are having to relearn how to be in school after being away for so long.

All major districts in Southern Arizona were asked more than a month ago more to provide us their data involving classroom disruptions. Two of those districts gave some insight on what they’re seeing and how they’re handling it.

Sunnyside district has seen a rise in fighting in 2021
Sunnyside district has seen a rise in fighting in 2021(KOLD)

Sunnyside’s district data shows fighting increased 26% in the same time period covering 2019 and 2021.

Though aggressive acts in grades K through 12 trended down, Holmes says, the level of aggression is more intense this school year.

“I think a lot has to do with what’s been exacerbated during the pandemic. A lot of our family situations, some of the things students are dealing with at home, not being in a social setting for so many months, I think has created some levels of anxiety, anger, frustration that we’re seeing playing out in the interactions that they have socially at school as well,” he said.

That scenario is also playing out in the Marana district.

But over there, the total number of aggressive acts didn’t drop. It rose 46%.

Aggravated Assaults, Assaults and Fights jumped from 66 to 115. That’s a 74% increase.

More students are acting out in schools
More students are acting out in schools(KOLD)

Cindy Ruich is Director of Student Services in Marana.

“It’s very difficult to teach kids behavioral expectations when they’re not there in-person,” she said.

To get ready for the students’ return, school teams trained four hours before the start of the school year.

“And then what happens is, kids came in and we knew that they needed to learn behavioral expectations, but we didn’t know to what degree,” Ruich said.

Both districts discovered students entered schools, developmentally, two grades behind.

“Freshmen have been our really big focus when it comes to behaviors. We’re seeing a lot of behaviors that we would typically see in seventh grade because they missed that eighth grade year,” Holmes said.

Here’s more data on aggression from other districts:

  • Nogales shows fighting increased from 13 to 23.
  • In Sahuarita, seven more fights broke out this year over the same time period.
  • Flowing Wells has seen a jump in fighting from 48 to 56. Altercations rose from 1 incident to 86.
  • Tanque Verde reports only 1 fight this year.
More students acting out in schools
More students acting out in schools(KOLD)

Holmes reports that kids now seem to have settled in and he’s seeing some improvement in behavior across Sunnyside campuses.

“We have full-time counselors in our schools who are able to go into classrooms and routinely have discussions with students. So really normalizing the school experience has helped taper down a lot of the incidents,” Holmes said.

Ruich says the Marana district just formed a social, emotional learning committee to review all of their practices, for all students, not just those typically at risk.

“We usually meet the criteria for 70% or better for expectations at the tier-one level, but we can do better,” she said. “I really want to take the time to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence and not just adopting something to adopt it because we know we need something.”

Both districts are using federal COVID relief funds, known as ESSER dollars, to help fill in support gaps for students still struggling with behavior.

Holmes says he’ll continue to review all the behavior data and make modifications when necessary.

And KOLD News 13 continue to examine the discipline data as well.

As of Monday, three districts had not provided data on their disciplinary issues.

Tucson Unified says they’ll submit the data later this week. Vail and Amphi districts responded to our public records request for data, however, we have yet to receive them.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.