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North Little Rock school officials blame pandemic-related stress for uptick in unruliness

by Neal Earley | October 11, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
File Photo

Pandemic-related stress and social media have caused students in the North Little Rock School District to become restless and act out more, administrators said during a School Board workshop Thursday night.

In-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and other disciplinary actions are all up in the North Little Rock School District as students have struggled to cope with a return to school, administrators said.

School officials cited more students suffering from mental health problems brought on by isolation during the covid-19 pandemic, a chaotic national climate, social media and exposure to violence as being among the factors behind the rise in school discipline.

Principals across the school district reported seeing an increase in the number of students acting out.

"I have 11 fighting situations this year, and that is hands-down the most I've ever had to deal with," said Karla Whisnant, principal of the North Little Rock Center of Excellence.

"That's a number I would expect to see -- maybe -- in May, but never in September," she said.

Quintin Cain, principal of North Little Rock Middle School's seventh and eighth grade campus, said there has been a "huge increase" in the number of fights and instances of insubordination.

"Of course last year, dealing with covid, it was a honeymoon year because we only had, at one time, five to six hundred kids in the building," Cain said. "Now we're looking back at having 1,110 to 1,150 kids at the building at one time."

While there was a decrease in minor infractions at North Little Rock's sixth grade campus, major infractions such as fighting, vandalism and use of profanity have increased from the 2019-20 school year.

"In '19-20, we did not have any vandalism; this year, we've already had four" instances, said Michael Clark, principal of North Little Rock Middle School's sixth grade campus.

During a presentation during Thursday's meeting, Sharesa White, executive director of secondary curriculum, assessment and accountability, said the mental health of many students has deteriorated during the pandemic because of "uncertainty, fear of getting the virus, sleep problems and worries about the future."

White said a study shows that those pandemic-induced concerns have led to an increase in depression, anxiety and substance abuse among students.

Principals attributed some of the increase in incidents to social media, saying challenges promoted on TikTok have egged students into acting out at school.

"The social media is outrageous," Whisnant said. "It is a huge player in our children's lives, in the decisions they make that lead to these actions."

One solution, administrators suggested, is opening up schools to allow more parents and volunteers in, creating benefits from more community engagement and face-to-face parent-teacher conferences.

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Other suggestions included adding a mentorship program, holding conflict resolution training, adding a therapy dog and having more parent meetings.

North Little Rock High School Principal Nadia Saint-Louis said ninth graders are the ones most likely to act out, as many have transitioned from virtual learning in middle school to attending classes in-person in high school.

"The last time many of them were in school was seventh grade," Saint-Louis said. "Any time students transition, it's already a challenge to come to school."

Print Headline: Students' behavior worries officials

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