A recent survey by the Broward Teachers Union (BTU), obtained by New Times this week, reveals half of all teachers polled feel in danger in their classrooms. The survey, which comes after BTU members expressed safety concerns at school, includes anonymous responses from Broward teachers, some of whom opted to reveal the names of their schools. Of the 1,800 teachers surveyed, about 900 said they feel unsafe. More than 200 said abusive behavior — toward themselves, other teachers, or students — has gone unnoticed or ignored.
"I was pregnant this past year, and students still pushed and shoved me down the stairs in the hallways and yelled profanity at me in class. [The principal] did nothing to stop this. She reads them quotes and acts as if nothing has happened," one teacher from Lyons Creek Middle School reported.
A Flamingo Elementary teacher said she was pushed, shoved, and had her money stolen by students. Another elementary school teacher, at Endeavor Primary Learning Center, was punched in the chest by a student in her classroom this past February. One survey participant noted that a student who threatened to shoot up the school returned the following day without receiving any punishment.
The common thread among many of the personal testimonies is a culture of dismissiveness within the Broward school district. A teacher from Coral Springs Elementary says the school allegedly pushes behavioral issues under the rug to spare its reputation: "The administration wants to keep the referral counts low... I have been spit upon, sworn at, threatened by violence, and the administration doesn’t seem to care at all."
Many teachers reported that severely misbehaving students are given figurative slaps on the wrist, and teachers are left to fend for themselves. For some teachers, the abuse has led to hospitalization for treatment of symptoms related to stress on the job. Others have considered quitting teaching altogether.
One teacher said they had to pay for their own restraining order after a student allegedly stalked them and threatened to shoot them in the back of the head. According to the teacher's survey response, the student was only suspended for three days and then moved to a classroom directly next to the teacher’s.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the site of the deadliest high-school shooting in U.S. history, a teacher described an environment that has allowed dangerous students such as the February 14 shooter to slip through the cracks.
"A 300 pound ESE student sexually harassed female students... When I reported it to the ESE department, I was told there was nothing to do about it [because] the student is 'socially and emotionally disabled,'" the teacher wrote.
ESE is the acronym for "Exceptional Student Education," a program for students with disabilities. According to responses in the survey, many students designated as ESE seem to avoid disciplinary action.
"Students tear apart classrooms, kick over desks, make gun threats, and are returned to the classroom like it is nothing," a teacher from Nob Hill Elementary reported. "The excuse is that the students have an ESE label so there is nothing they (admin) can do."
New Times reached out to Broward County Public Schools, which declined to comment on the survey.
In February, BTU President Anna Fusco called for improved safety measures to protect teachers after a Dillard Middle School student tried to shoot a BB gun at a school counselor. But the school board has yet to enact major changes to ensure teacher safety.