Are students more violent after the pandemic?

Closeup of Stop Sign on School Bus
Photo: Jill Rose/Pixabay

In late February, a video of a student violently attacking a teacher’s aide in a Florida high school garnered widespread attention online. The teachers’ aide was hospitalized for her injuries and continues to recover. The student accused of attacking her has since been charged as an adult with aggravated battery.

Another viral video in January showed a student fighting with a teacher in an Atlanta suburb high school. The teacher was hospitalized with knee and leg injuries, according to local news.

Such incidents are possible reverberations of the COVID-19 shutdowns according to Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“Attacks on teachers are not new. School violence is not new,” Canady told Chalkboard Review. “Prior to the pandemic, we had plenty of high-profile active assailant events, assaults in a school environment – none of that is new.”

But what is new, Canady says, are the curveballs thrown at students and staff by school closures in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we went into the pandemic three years ago, we started having conversations with our friends in the school safety business,” Canady said. “And all of us started asking the same question: What are things going to look like when school starts back, whenever that is?”

Canady said there was worry about the effect the pandemic shutdowns would have on adolescents going through the second biggest period of brain development in their lives. Anecdotally, the effects have tracked with those concerns, Canady said.

“I won’t say that our worst nightmares were realized, but I will say that it’s been rough,” Canady said about school violence after the pandemic. “It’s increased and, on top of that, schools are admittedly dealing with more mental health issues with adolescents than they were prior to the pandemic.”

And for the time being, anecdotes are all that’s available. There is a lag when it comes to violence reporting in schools, Canady said.

The most recent federal data released last year are from the 2019-2020 school year. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics show that violence and theft had declined since the 2009-2010 school year while more schools were reporting verbal abuse of teachers and other acts of disrespect and disorder in the classroom.

Canady said it would likely take a study a decade from now to fully understand the impact the COVID shutdowns are having now on violence in schools. 

In the meantime, preventing school violence requires continuous vigilance and effort from teachers, parents and students, Canady said.

“Adults in the school building working with adolescents have to keep their head on a swivel, more so than ever before,” Canady said. “To be able to recognize a student elevate in a certain way, whether it’s mental health concerns or trending toward violent activity, we just have to pay attention to those signs.” 

“There are more of them to have to pay attention to now,” he added. 

The NCES report found that in the 2019-2020 school year, “55% of public schools provided diagnostic mental health assessment services to evaluate students for mental health disorders, and 42% offered mental health treatment services,” an increase over the prior year.

Canady said that we often forget about the impact of parents on violence in schools and that adolescents need their parents more than ever given the upheaval of the last three years. Parents also need to be checking on what their children are doing online, he said.

“Parents need to be very actively engaged with their students in terms of what’s going on at school,” Canady said. “And if they have adolescents who are on social media, parents need to be able to access that and need to be doing it on a regular basis.”

Canady said that there needs to be a culture shift to teach students the importance of bystander reporting, and that if they see something they must say something. That requires that every student has an adult they can trust at school to share a concern with, Canady added.

The NCES report on the data from the 2019-2020 school year found that that 91% of middle schools and 90% of secondary/high schools recorded incidents of violent crime.

The report also shows that in the 2015-2016 school year, almost 10% of teachers were threatened by students, with almost 6% of teachers reporting that they were physically attacked.

A more recent survey from Education Week last year reported higher incident rates, with 20% of principals and 8% of teachers saying they were personally attacked, and 40% of teachers saying someone in their district had been physically assaulted within the last year.

Brendan Clarey
Brendan Clarey is K-12 editor at Chalkboard Review. Reach him at

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