Teacher at Green Hope High School punched by student during lunch

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Friday, September 16, 2022
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A teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary was assaulted by a student last week during student lunch.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary was assaulted by a student on Sept. 8 during lunch.

Jackson Ealy, 17, a senior at Green Hope High, said it was third period when he heard what happened.

"I was shocked," Ealy said. "I was actually in a class with the kid last year and he didn't really seem like the kind of kid to do that."

Ealy said he was confused as to why someone would do that, calling the teacher who got hit "the nicest guy ever."

"He's such a good teacher, he really cares about the kids," Ealy said. "So of course I hope he comes back healthy and OK. It was really sad, because it was supposed to be his last semester and now he's going through this."

Green Hope Principal Alison Cleveland sent the following notice to parents about what happened:

I wanted to take a moment to address a situation that affected our school community last week. On Thursday, September 8, a student assaulted a teacher who was supervising SMART lunch. The teacher was injured, but is recovering and has returned to school.This student's behavior was unacceptable and does not align with the high standards we hold for all of our Green Hope Falcons. While federal privacy laws limit the information I am able to share, please know that the student was disciplined in accordance with WCPSS policies. And of course we will continue to take every measure to ensure the safety of all students and staff members.We appreciate the heartfelt support students, staff and parents alike have shown for the teacher involved. Your kindness and concern are a reflection of the values we embrace and celebrate in our Green Hope High School community.

Nationwide, there's been an uptick in physical violence from students.

A national survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found one-third of surveyed teachers from July 2020 to June 2021 reported they experienced at least one incident of verbal and/or threatening violence from students.

School staff, such as school counselors and school resource officers, experienced the highest rates of student physical violence, with 22% of staff reporting at least one incident of physical violence, according to APA.

"We know that some of that does stem from the educator shortage that we are seeing in our buildings, because we do not have enough physical adults in the building to monitor what is happening with our students," NCAE president Tamika Walker Kelly said. "We also know that the pandemic has had an effect on student behavior and that many of our students are acting in ways that are contrary to the ways that they have before because they don't have access to the mental health support ... that allow them to express themselves in a more healthy way."

School systems facing a range of challenges include how to address student mental health.

"Even long before the pandemic, numbers indicated an increase in mental health related problems with 12 to 17 year olds," Keith Hamm at Integrated Family Services said. "During those years, there was a 74% increase in young people being diagnosed with depression. So the pandemic certainly exasperated the problem, but it's one that has been going on."

Hamm said there's more anxiety, depression, irritability and less patience among not just young people, but adults as well.

"Even though we have come a long way in trying to end the stigma around mental health, it still very much exists," Hamm said.

Social media is also a concern as it's more often used by young people.

"Educators understand the incredible potential of social media," the National Education Association president Becky Pringle said in a letter to social media companies in 2021. "But like all innovation, social media platforms are double-edged swords."

Pringle said online "trends" and false information that have spread like wildfire throughout social media platforms -- from stealing school property and hitting school staff -- have helped "create a culture of fear and violence with educators as targets."

"Our nation's educators are still working through a pandemic after two years," Pringle said. "We're all exhausted, stressed, and stretched so thin it feels like we'll crumble -- and now we're facing growing violence fueled by corporations with no oversight and no accountability to the communities they harm.

Walker Kelly echoed Pringle and explained what else needs to be done to better support school systems.

"It takes a community effort to sustain supports for not only students in the classroom, but for educators as well," Walker Kelly said. "So having those conversations with all of our stakeholders at the table. Educators, students, parents, caregivers, community allies, about what it means to not only be safe in school, but also what it means to be secure in school and how do we build that conversation to tangible supports that allow us to foster safe and welcoming environments all day long."