November 2010 Issue
October 24, 2010

Safety a top concern for SRPs

Author: Bernie Mulligan
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Wendy Hord, NYSUT's health and safety specialist, discusses how the union can initiate solutions to workplace violence, during a workshop at the recent SRP Leadership Conference. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

Ten to 20 percent of children witness violence in their community each year. Millions more witness violence in their homes. It's a vicious cycle educators deal with in schools every day.

"That's the baggage you can't see," said Joyce Hanousek, a school adjustment counselor from the Gateway school district and a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Hanousek was one of many presenters who led workshops for the 240 School-Related Professionals who attended NYSUT's 32nd annual SRP Leadership Conference on how to best keep educators, children and families safe.

Children, she said, are far more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress than adults who are exposed to the same event. That means students can carry terrible burdens, often without the emotional equipment to deal with it effectively.

Signs of post-traumatic stress include:

  • Distressing dreams of events;
  • Generalized fear and anxiety;
  • Reliving events through repetitive play; and
  • Disorganized, agitated behavior.

"Adults should be careful not to make judgments too quickly about what's happening," Hanousek said, because children are sometimes being self-protective, not willfully disobedient. "When you have a traumatized child, they're often not hearing your words," she said.

"The best thing you can do for a traumatized child is to form a trusting relationship with them," she said. To heal, they need adults who are safe, calm, predictable and non-judgmental.

Hannah Azeb, a Maine-Endwell teacher aide and M-E Support Staff Association member, said the session helped her find new ways to respond to children. "It gave [me] real techniques to make a positive impact in a child's day, or in his life."

Educators also can become victims of violence, sometimes at the hands of parents or students who bully or become physical.

"Personal problems get carried into schools and, combined with the pressure of high performance, the risk of 'losing it' is always there," said Edith Sami, Mahopac Teaching Assistants Association president.

Wendy Hord, NYSUT's health and safety specialist, stressed prevention during her "School and Workplace Violence Prevention" workshop. "We want to reduce the severity and number of incidents in our workplaces," she said.

Trish Kraft from the SRP unit of the Brewster TA said lockdown and lockout drills, check-in points and ID badges for employees help keep workplaces safer.

Hord suggested three steps SRPs and their teams can take:

  • Map the workplace. Is there a pattern about a location? Are entrances and exits secure and accessible?
  • Survey members. What are their concerns about the workplace? Is every member who needs training receiving it?
  • Keep good records. Knowing the who, what, where and why of school safety is essential.

"One statewide priority for us in the next legislative session is to have K-12 school workers covered under the protections of the Workplace Violence Prevention Act, which covers every public employee, except K-12 workers," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who leads health and safety initiatives for the union. "Because of the situations we face, our members need and deserve these enhanced protections available under that law."==