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‘I’m afraid to be in a classroom’: Florida teachers discuss rise in student violence

ORLANDO, Fla. — In 2020, kids across Florida went home for spring break and did not return to school.

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Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Florida shut down schools until the following year. By the fall of 2021, most kids in the state had returned to class, but that return has been marked with what educators call a disturbing trend.

“Student behavior is pretty much spiraling,” says former teacher Kiauna Sharmetta Izliah. “Twenty years ago, you didn’t see those behaviors so much as you see now. And the behaviors can range from anything from just verbal disrespect to a student physically grabbing a teacher, throwing things at teachers.”

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The problems with behavior are not isolated to any one school or part of the state.

In 2022, Brevard County announced new plans to deal with behavior, while in 2023 Orange County held a meeting with teachers to discuss concerns.

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Years of state data reviewed by 9 Investigates show that while not every incident rises to the level of needing to be reported to law enforcement, the number of total incidents is increasing.

Additionally, a statewide grand jury report raised questions about if schools are intentionally under-reporting incidents.

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“I think they’re being under-reported. Just going back to those school grades, is this in a district? Is this A, B or C or B? You know, no one wants to be in the limelight negatively,” Izliah said.

The rise in violence comes as Florida is struggling to fill vacant teaching positions, with one estimate showing the state 5,700 teachers short for the current school year.

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