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'None of these are bad kids;' Parents explain why student outbursts, teacher injuries are happening

Erica Hahn and Spencer.jpg
Posted at 5:30 AM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 15:55:16-05

Call 6 Investigates is digging into the issue of teachers injured in the classroom. For the first time, educators who got hurt are speaking out. Plus, you'll hear from parents whose children have caused injuries at school. This is the second of three stories. Read the first story: Elwood teacher loses hearing as a result of student outburst | Read the third story: Bill aimed at preventing teacher injuries fails to get a hearing

INDIANAPOLIS — Parents whose children have assaulted teachers and school administrators are sharing their stories with Call 6 Investigates and they want you to know — they are not bad parents and their kids are not bad children.

At first glance, Erica Hahn’s son, Spencer, is a typical teenager, but the 14-year-old’s life has been anything but easy.

"He had a stroke in utero so two-thirds of the left side of his brain never formed,” Hahn said. “Because of that, he has autism, seizures and oppositional defiance disorder.”

At times, Spencer has been violent, including at school.

"He will act out and lash out,” Hahn said. “So there have been multiple times where he has hit teachers or kicked or spit at them. He has issues on the bus with bus drivers and stuff."

Hahn said she’s concerned for her son’s well-being as well as the teachers’ safety.

“It's hard because you know your kid's brain is essentially on fire and you know they're doing the best they can," Hahn said.

Hahn knows what people think — she read the comments on the RTV6 Facebook page on our teacher injury investigation.

READ | Elwood teacher loses hearing as a result of student outburst

“Their parents should be charged,” read one Facebook comment.

“Parents need to start PARENTING their children!” read another Facebook comment.

“POS parents,” wrote another person.

Hahn said people don’t understand the backstory with student outbursts and violent behavior.

“I wanted to cry, and I wanted to comment on every single post and I didn't," Hahn said. “I’m the same kind of parent. We’re just teaching our kids different things.”

Hahn said her family has paid the price for her son’s behavior. She said the Indiana Department of Child Services investigated her for child neglect — allegations she said DCS ultimately did not find credible.

The mother also lost her job because she had to leave work so often to pick up Spencer from his Indianapolis school after violent outbursts.

"The system is completely collapsing, and the kids are the ones that are suffering and the teachers," Hahn said.

Keeping violent students out of the classroom is one approach schools take.

In Dearborn County, Katrina Bell’s 8-year-old son Markeese was arrested and charged with battery after he allegedly punched and kicked a teacher, principal and assistant principal.

"He had a meltdown,” Bell said. “He does have a behavioral disorder and at times he melts down"

Bell snapped a picture of Markeese eating a jail meal when she arrived at the juvenile facility.

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Katrina Bell's 8-year-old son, Markeese, eats a meal in juvenile detention.

"It broke my heart to go into the intake room and he ran to me and held on for dear life,” Bell said. “He said, 'I feel like I'm going to die.' That was very disturbing to me as a mom. He's 8 years old."

Bell said locking kids up and charging them with crimes is not the answer to preventing teacher injuries.

“They really need better training, I feel,” Bell said.

JauNae Hanger of the Positive School Discipline Institute agrees training for all school staff is part of the solution.

We shared with Hanger information about Markeese’s arrest.

"It's not appropriate to put a kid in a detention center that is that young,” Hanger said. “There's a trauma when you arrest a child. They fall behind in school, they become labeled, they become stigmatized."

Hanger said it is the school’s responsibility to create a safe environment for teachers and students.

"We've over-relied on school police and we've under-relied on school counselors and social workers and school psychologists," Hanger said.

The Positive School Discipline Institute is a year-long program that has trained teams from 54 schools, not just teachers, but school resource officers, principals, deans and other school personnel.

It costs time and money and the state does not require this kind of training for school staff.

Teachers who have gone through the training told RTV6 they can see why it’s important to develop relationships with their students so they can work out problems long before things get physical.

Katy Hamsel, a fourth grade teacher at Matchbook Learning Charter School, said the sessions were eye-opening.

“A lot of schools just use strict discipline and it's not working,” Hamsel said. "If I see students getting frustrated and mad, I stop and we talk. I give them space."

Hamsel said she can understand how training can help prevent student outbursts and teacher injuries by encouraging school staff to better comprehend why students act the way they do.

"If you don't have any background in restorative practices, or understanding the relationship and childhood trauma, absolutely I can understand where it can be an issue,” Hamsel said. “You just have to be proactive rather than reactive."

Both Erica Hahn and Katrina Bell pulled their children out of their schools.

Erica Hahn’s son Spencer now gets bussed 3 hours a day to a school that’s better able to accommodate Spencer’s disability.

Hahn said our state does not have enough schools and services to help students with special needs.

"At the end of the day, we're just trying to do what's best for our kids,” Hahn said. “There's always a backstory, and I guarantee the majority of the parents are fighting just as hard as I do to get their kids services. None of these are bad kids."

The reality is a lot of the teacher injuries are caused by special needs students.

In response to our records request, one district told us of the staff injuries involving students last school year — 79% were students with special needs.

The Indiana State Teachers Association listed teacher safety as one of its priorities this legislative session.

READ | Bill aimed at preventing teacher injuries fails to get a hearing

Senate Bill 220 would have required principals to report student physical assaults to law enforcement.

It also would also require the principal to hold a meeting before that student can return to class to discuss behavior and safety.

However, the bill did not get a hearing this session.