Apr 9, 2024 - Politics

Colorado teachers seek protections from student attacks

Illustration of an apple looking like an angry face emoji

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A pregnant teacher kicked in the stomach. A substitute instructor hit with a metal water bottle. A different teacher targeted by a student throwing feces.

Threat level: The incidents are more common than you might think, our education reporting partners at Chalkbeat write.

  • A recent teachers union survey found about one-third of educators say they've experienced physical assaults from students in their schools in the last two years.

Why it matters: Beyond the physical and emotional toll on teachers, the abuse from students is contributing to turnover in the classroom.

  • About 60% of teachers report they are considering leaving the profession in the near future for various reasons.

What we're watching: Colorado lawmakers are proposing a task force to study how to best address student violence against teachers, weighing how to address mental health gaps and alternative schooling shortages for students in need, rather than disciplinary actions.

  • Right now, the response varies by incident. The goal is to find consensus on new laws or policies ahead of the 2026 legislative session — which may come too late for some teachers.

What they're saying: "We need help," said Kallie Leyba, the American Federation of Teachers Colorado president, which represents teachers in Douglas County, told lawmakers.

  • "The kids are not all right. And the educators are not all right."

Friction point: The legislation — which needs money in a tight budget year to pass — would require the task force to avoid the topic of student discipline and block any recommendations that lead to more students being sent to law enforcement.

  • Democratic bill writers want it more focused on student resource gaps and funding shortages.

The other side: ​​That led Republican lawmakers to object to the legislation. They insist discipline needs to be a part of the conversation — and want the state to act more quickly to address the problem.

  • "If a student is beating up teachers, then what is the task force supposed to do about that scenario? What is their policy supposed to be if it doesn't include discipline?" Rep. Don Wilson (R-Monument) asked at a recent committee hearing.
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