Let's not fret over "student privacy" when they're attacking teachers

Before Thanksgiving we talked about a number of schools around the country where teachers are either living in fear or leaving their jobs entirely because of criminal elements among the student body who have been physically attacking them. Punishment for such actions is all too often minimal and protection for teachers scant. That’s particularly true in Milwaukee where a cellphone video of a student beating down a teacher went viral.

Now both the school system and the state legislature are wrestling with the problem of what to do about it. One obvious suggestion was to have the police notify teachers when a student with a violent track record was in their class so they could better prepare for potential conflicts. Makes sense, right? Well, not to everyone. Certain activist groups and even some of the teachers are complaining that sharing such criminal record information with the teachers would be a violation of the students’ privacy. State legislators are now trying to step in and make the schools a bit safer not only for students but for the staff as well. (Route Fifty)

Some educators say they don’t want that kind of help — they argue their colleagues might treat children differently after a brush with the law — and advocates for juveniles say further access to records violates children’s privacy and assumes guilt.

“I don’t think teachers could have that information and not have it shape their response to a young person, especially a young person that hasn’t been found guilty of anything yet,” said Naomi Smoot, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for the rights of children in the justice system. “My fear is they would use that as ammunition to discipline a child rather than to back up their reasoning for disciplining a child.”

Nationally, five percent of teachers report getting into a physical altercation with a student. In Milwaukee, that figure is eleven percent. That number is insane. But the arguments being offered against having law enforcement notify the schools and the specific teachers in question about violent students are even crazier. There are actually people arguing about whether not such information might “bias” the teacher against the student or change how they interact with them.

I should certainly hope so. If the kid stabbed their last teacher and was assigned to my class, you can bet that I’d want to be ready in case he broke out a knife during third period. And if you think I’m being hyperbolic with the stabbing comment, tell that to Carolyn Gilbert, a high school teacher from Elgin, Illinois.

Carolyn Gilbert was alone in her high school classroom after school in Elgin, Illinois, in 2008 when a student asked to wait for the bus in her room to avoid the chilly January weather. But he soon pulled out a knife and started stabbing. She lost an eye as a result.

In the aftermath of the attack it became clear that others had been aware the student may have been dangerous, she said.

Gilbert said he had been arrested before, but she was never notified. And once news of her attack was reported, she said a middle school girl who previously called police when an unknown teen tried to kidnap her identified Gilbert’s attacker as the suspect who approached her.

Just this month a Florida student who had been arrested for one rape and suspected in a second case was returned to class. The parents were not pleased, nor were the teachers. (Particularly since his alleged victim was an adult.) Again, privacy concerns were cited.

Privacy for students is conditional to begin with when compared to adults. And when a history of violent crime is evident, that goes out the window as far as I’m concerned. This particular species of political correctness is going to get somebody killed sooner or later and it needs to be put to an end.