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Southern Tier school leaders say fighting, bullying, vandalism increasing among students

Behavior Issues SPOT

ITHACA, NY (WSKG) — Schools across New York state have had an uptick in behavioral issues among students this year. It’s the third school year affected by the pandemic. And school leaders said fighting, bullying and vandalism are all on the rise.

Last week, the principal at Binghamton High School announced classes would go remote for the rest of the school year because of a trend of major behavioral issues this semester.

Most recently, students set a small fire in one of the school's bathrooms. During the evacuation that followed, a fight broke out between students. Another person with connections to one of the students pulled up in a car and attempted to arm the students with metal pipes. The district declined to comment beyond a written statement.

Binghamton High School isn't unique. There is a national trend of students acting out at school, sometimes in ways that are high profile or violent. Some incidents are a part of viral trends on the popular video sharing platform TikTok, like a spate of bathroom vandalisms in September and a school shooting scare in December

Harmony Ayers Friedlander is the Deputy Mental Health Commissioner for Tompkins County. Her office provides counseling and mental health support services to school districts in the county. 

"We are seeing an increased intensity of need," Ayers-Friedlander said. "There have been, I believe, similar situations in some of the school districts here with an increase in violent behavior."

Ayers-Friedlander said no one fully knows the impact of the pandemic on kids and their social development. But she said, when a kid is living through a traumatic event — like a pandemic — it can translate into behavioral issues at school. 

"I think we're just seeing the repercussions of those challenges — the high level of stress and gaps and children's developmental socialization," Ayers-Friedlander said.

Ayers-Friedlander said those stressors can manifest in different ways, not just violence. She said it’s important for schools and families to support all students, not just the ones who are acting out.

But Ayers-Friedlander said that’s a heavy lift. In schools across the state, she said, there are just not enough counselors and social workers to go around.

Jason Andrews is the superintendent of Windsor Central School District in Broome County. He said that even though students are back in school in person again, 18 months of remote learning has taken a toll.

"In Windsor School District and schools across our region, across the country, I'm hearing reports of just increased behavioral issues," Andrews said.

Andrews said clashes among students can reflect larger trends in the community, like resistance to COVID protocols, which have occasionally turned violent.

"The school is a microcosm of society, and there's so much division in society right now," Andrews said. "And that's definitely reflected in what happens in schools."

Andrews said that kids often take cues from the adults in their lives.

"Look at all segments of society, you know, look at the incidence of passenger misconduct on airplanes, and conduct in restaurants and in stores," Andrews said.

Parents, teachers and school administrators said one difference this year is that some conflicts have also involved adults. Parents and other adults have been clashing with school administrators over everything from mask mandates to bullying.

Some parents have also been calling for additional police presence in schools. Binghamton High School plans to install metal detectors at the front doors to the building.