Parents raise concerns about fights at schools

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Fights at school are nothing new — but this year, KOB 4 has received numerous calls from concerned parents about school violence.

"It’s just coming out of the pandemic. I think there was a real emotional release,” said APS Superintendent Scott Elder.

Elder said the challenges of returning to the classroom this year are unprecedented.

"And so they left as seventh graders and came back as ninth graders, really. But the last time they were around people, they were the younger people. So they’re still adjusting socially to this new reality of their age,” he said.

APS does not share information on disciplinary actions, and Elder said it is hard to quantify if school fights are increasing. But he did write a letter to parents titled "student behavior – safety and social media" about a month ago.

"We were beginning to see a trend, and we’re hearing from our schools that, you know, there was a lot of fights going on and just behaviors that we were really concerned about,” said Elder.

In the letter, Elder said staffing shortages are complicating the problem and that’s something parents are noticing.

"It’s great to have teachers involved, but teachers are already stretched so thin and they don’t have many breaks and they don’t get paid very much as it is, so we need to APS police to step it up and have more presence here on campus,” said Ruthann Contreras Garcia, parent.

In the letter, Elder said the APS Police Department was short 11 officers and 18 campus security aides. The district still has over 260 teaching vacancies – and as many educational assistance jobs open as they had during the summer – still more than 200.

Concerns about fighting first surfaced in September. Volcano Vista High School’s principal wrote a letter saying they have seen an increase in fighting and bystanders recording it. Elder’s letter followed.

"Social media has such an amazing impact on them that I’m not really sure. Those of us of a certain age truly understand how deeply ingrained it is into their lives,” said Elder.

It’s not just one high school, KOB 4 found Instagram accounts that has been created to share bad behavior at APS middle schools.

"And, you know, we’ve had students get in trouble. And when their parents have confronted them about it, they’ve said, yeah, but this many people liked it on the social media platform, and that seemed to be more important to them. You know, we really need to start addressing that with our education and how we talk to our kids about what we truly value."

Dr. C is a local pediatrician and she said she has seen an increase in behavioral issues with kids.

"I think that some of it gets to be blamed on social media, unfortunately. And I think it does become sort of a big show of, you know, look at what I can do and look at what I can get away with,” she said.

The social media giant, Facebook, is now at the center of a national debate surrounding potential new federal regulations. A whistleblower testifying before Congress said Facebook exploits the worst of human behavior to keep users coming back.

Combine that with the stresses kids have to transition back to in-person learning.

"But you put a teenager home with a parent or grandparent or some other caregiver for a year and a half, 24/7, there’s going to be conflict. And I think that that conflict is now, unfortunately, like translating into some school behaviors,” said Dr. C.

School leaders said they discipline troublemakers and those recording it – but said they need help from outside of school.

"You know, a lot of times kids get to high school and middle school and they don’t really tell parents everything that’s going on. And we thought it was important to begin a conversation,” said Elder.

School leaders hope that conversation will lead to solutions.

"I think that we have to target the root of it. And that’s going to need teamwork from parents, mental health professionals, primary care doctors, schools, all working together to address the issues and also to teach kids that there are consequences when things happen, when they misbehave,” said Dr. C.

"I’m so happy that kids are back in school and a lot of kids are thrilled to be back in school and I don’t think it’s going to be easy for a while. I think kids will have to readjust,” said Dr. C.