Aggressive Student Behaviors and Staff Member Injuries
By Shawn Bubb, Director of Insurance Services
The levels and kinds of stress in Montana Public schools since the inception of the pandemic can be measured in a number of ways – student and parental engagement, staff retention percentages, the length of school board meetings, and, unfortunately, the number of aggressive student behaviors and staff member injured to name but a few. To be sure, the palpably higher levels of anxiety for students, staff, parents, and community members have not necessarily brought out the best behaviors for all involved. Since 1989, the MSGIA has served its members in a risk-management and advisory capacity for loss trends it has observed and future-loss trends it anticipates. Against this backdrop, this article focuses on a concerning potential-loss trend as well as on potential strategies to help chart a much-improved, data-informed, and proactive course forward for our public school employees.
Injuries stemming from interactions with students have always occurred in schools. As a case in point, we have regularly seen about $500,000 in annual claim costs related to injuries from aggressive student behaviors directed toward staff members. However, we are beginning to see unprecedented triggers for aggressive behavior linked to isolation, anxiety, and behavior patterns associated with conditions that have likely been exacerbated by the pandemic. In consequence, student-to-student altercations, as well as other formerly predictable and somewhat common problems associated with such incidences as hitting, biting, punching, head butting, kicking, scratching, and, generally, lashing out at staff are catching faculty and administrators off guard in ways they have not in the past.
So, it’s more important than ever to provide training in behavioral de-escalation procedures and the identification of concerning behaviors (behavioral-threat assessment processes). Further, it is imperative that all staff are aware of the available student mental health resources, and it is equally important the conflict-management strategies (including staff-to-student, staff-to-parent, and staff-to-other staff) are updated and improved.
Teaching your staff about situational awareness and personal-space management will go a long way toward preventing some of the more commonly occurring close-proximity injuries involving staff and students. Giving students more physical space often results in greater reaction time that in turn helps staff to avoid getting injured as a result of the sudden student outbursts.
As we work through the impacts of the COVID pandemic, we trust that better times are ahead for our public school employees – but, we must balance our optimism with due diligence and take an active role in helping to shape the future we want to see. I want to see a future with happy and healthy public school employees who are well trained, educated, and poised to be at their best. This will bring out the best in their students, and it will help to ensure a successful year for everyone at your district. We hope that district staff uses the many Safe Schools online training and other risk-management tools made available to all our members to help make this worthy aspiration a reality.
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