After a year of virtual learning, a new concern is crippling the classroom: violence and crime.
As students return to in-person learning, school officials are reporting higher levels of violence, misbehavior, assault and drug abuse across the country, according to Education Week.
Some school psychologists report higher levels of crisis calls across the board, while many students are declining to show up to school over safety concerns.
"People are afraid to go to school," Akea Williams, a professional licensed counselor based in Philadelphia, told FOX Business. "They're afraid to walk home from school. Teachers themselves don’t feel safe. It’s not a safe environment when you don’t know what’s going to happen."
School shootings are on track to outpace pre-pandemic levels s. This year, reports of shooting incidents on school grounds, including active and non-active shooters, reached 249, up from 119 in 2019 and 118 in 2018, according to the K-12 Shooting Database.
It’s not only weapons-related, according to executive director, National Association of School Resource Officers, Mo Canady.
"They're seeing more aggression in terms of fights," Canady told FOX Business. "Sometimes they’re shoving matches and sometimes they’re flat out assaults. It’s more misbehavior, thefts and those kinds of things."
Canady says that increased levels of aggression and disobedience in the classroom partly stems from students stuck in difficult home environments and in some cases, abuse, during the two-year hiatus of in-person learning. Cases of abuse or neglect at home are often spotted in the classroom, and now an influx of those cases missed for two years are beginning to pile up.
Meanwhile, children and teenagers turned to social media, video gams and other online platforms that hindered routines and social skills and left many feeling isolated and disconnected.
For those students that are attending classes, they are often too stressed to think about what matters: classes, graduation and college.
"How can I think that tomorrow I’m going to go to school, I’m going to do my work and I’m going to talk to my counselor about maybe enrolling in some colleges when we are on a lockdown because someone brought a gun to school or there was a threat to the school?" Williams said. "I can’t do that because right now I’m in fight or flight. I have to choose to be safe. I can’t worry about what’s going on with school work."
Williams started offering free sessions to children touched by gun violence in the city as incidents began to climb. When Williams began the program last July, her clients surged to 300 participants within the first few months. Now, she has more than 700 clients, as well as volunteers who have signed up to help coach young children, teenagers and even families cope with the rise in crime.
One of her clients compared the current schooling landscape to "Grand Theft Auto is being played out in real life."
Districts across the country are responding with more counseling, increased patrols and fewer suspensions as students return from remote learning. One middle school in Dallas is even sending students who misbehave to reset centers, rather than suspending them. The students receive one to three days of counseling in an unused classroom or outdoors, which is helping students at L.V. Stockard Middle School to express their emotions that remained pent-up during closures.
Another school in Dallas is starting the day with a 45-minute session dedicated to social-emotional learning.
While schools continue to come up with new ways to find solutions to channel misbehavior and minimize violence, it could take years to reverse the damage and impact on mental health.
"What does this look like ten years from now?" Canady said. "I think we may be ten years out and still looking back on how this affects society ten years down the road."