Violent student outbursts are putting educators at risk.

By: Brenda Álvarez, Senior Writer, NEA Today and Giovanna Bechard, MEA Communications Director
First Appeared In NEA Today

We put up with these working conditions and keep showing up “for the kids”, but those emotional manipulations won’t work forever. We need plans in place for the serious influx of behavioral needs.

Daniel Edyte Parsons begins her class at 8:45 a.m. with a check-in, where she learns how her fourth graders are doing or what they did the previous evening. She then moves on to morning work—projects students can easily accomplish—followed by math. Mornings are one of the best parts of her day, she says.

At about 10 a.m., Parsons, an elementary school teacher in Washington, starts to see the warning signs.

A student gets up from his seat, walks around the class, and begins to provoke other students, until one eventually snaps back. The roving student storms out of the room, slams the door, and joins the fifth and sixth graders during their recess and lunch break.

Parsons’ lessons have been interrupted by much worse over her 10-year career in two different school districts. Desks have been shoved or tipped over. She’s been hit and kicked. Today, as a union building representative, she gets called in when her colleagues experience similar outbursts or physical attacks from students.

Last year, Parsons says, “a 5-year-old hit, scratched, spat on, and kicked at least six adults.”

The child was dealing with trauma: his mother had almost died and was revived in front of him. But there were few interventions or resources available to help curb the child’s behavior.


2,983 Violent Incidents Reported in Maine Schools

Department of Education from school districts in Maine demonstrate an increase … in the number of both injury-related and non-injury related dangerous behaviors in schools. In 2021-22 school year the MDOE reported 2,983 violent incidents with 690 of those involving injuries. In the 2018-19 school year there were 737 overall fewer violent incidents…and those are just the issues reported to the State. Education experts suggest that many more cases of dangerous behavior are happening in schools and just not getting reported.

“Our members are reporting an increase in the frequency of escalated behaviors, some of which present the risk of danger to staff and students.” said Mallory Cook, MEA’s Training and Early Career Engagement Director. Alongside field staff, Cook spends time traveling to districts around the state to train educators on the Dangerous Behavior Law MEA recently pushed to pass with the hopes of helping educators find a clear plan for students exhibiting dangerous behaviors.
The Dangerous Behavior Law gives educators a process to follow with their administrators to not only document the incident but also to create a prevention and intervention plan to ensure students and staff remain safe.

The data nationwide is also concerning. From March 2020 – June 2021, the American Psychological Association surveyed nearly 15,000 pre-K–12 teachers, administrators, school staff, and counselors about their experiences with physical threats and attacks from students and parents.

One-third of the teachers reported being threatened by a student within the year, including verbal threats, cyberbullying, intimidation, or sexual harassment; and 29 percent reported at least one incident from a parent. Fourteen percent of teachers said they had been victims of physical violence from students.


“One of my students bit me so hard it pierced the skin,” says a Maine teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.

“I had bites all over,” she recalls, explaining that the student’s behavior has been a problem, and one of the few solutions given by those in charge was for educators to wear denim head to toe, so bites have a lesser chance of breaking through the skin.

For the Maine teacher, the struggle of how to help students and maintain her own safety is a growing problem not just for her, but for many others who say they’re seeing similar issues in their schools.

“Kids just stick the middle finger up, cursing in the halls right in front of admin and no one steps in,” added another Maine teacher. “The behaviors are out of control and it’s affecting so many aspects of school life.”


Credible threats get downplayed or ignored, says Tim Martin, a union leader in Washington. Last year, he says, a middle school student in his district cornered a teacher in the stairwell.

“He made a gun with his hand, put it to her head, and threatened her,” Martin says. “She was scared to death. She went straight to the office and reported it.” But nothing happened.

According to Martin, school officials reported that the student had a ketchup packet in his hand and that he did not make a hand gesture in the form of a gun.

Because administrators are afraid of getting fired, they try to change the verbiage, so the threat doesn’t have to be rated so high, Martin explains. But he says behaviors are “out of control.”

Norma De La Rosa, a retired teacher and president of the El Paso Teachers Association in Texas, can attest to this.

She has fielded calls from educators who want administrators to follow student discipline policies for threatening and violent behaviors.

“But this seems to be the common result: Kids do things like … bring weapons to school,” De La Rosa says. “They’re reported, and nothing gets done to the students, because they’re back in class the next day.”


The Maine Education Association has been able to bargain for strong language in the law to ensure certain safety protocols are followed when it comes to dangerous behaviors in public schools. The Dangerous Behavior and Prevention Law is intended to increase workplace safety and also does the following:

  • protects your paycheck and sick time, if a dangerous behavior is substantiated and a staff person is injured
  • requires administration to work with the union to develop action plans
  • aims to keep staff and students safe and prevent future dangerous behaviors

For those who believe you have a dangerous behavior to report, MEA created a form to help you document the behavior. In addition, MEA encourages all local associations to work with their MEA representative to create a plan that creates a complete process for what happens when a behavior occurs. The plan should include items like: who is the designated school employee that receives the dangerous behavior reports? Do all employees know what form to use in filing a report? What happens after a report is filed? The law MEA worked to pass allows for local unions to be part of the process when this plan is created, ensuring educator voices are heard and respected. Without a proper plan and enforcement of the law at the local level, staff and students are left vulnerable to continued issues while on school property.