7 On Your Side Investigates: School violence skyrockets as kids battle stress, depression, anxiety

Kristin Thorne Image
Thursday, June 16, 2022
School violence skyrockets as kids battle stress, depression, anxiety
The summer cannot come soon enough for teachers and administrators across the nation, as schools have been dealing with a surge in violence.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The summer cannot come soon enough for teachers and administrators across our area and the nation, as schools have been dealing with a surge in student violence.

Students and parents in our area have been reporting an increase in fights in school buildings -- in hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias, even classrooms, and outside on school property.

Makayla Jones, a senior at West Babylon High School, showed Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne the scars she still has on her face and back from being attacked by two girls with a pen in March in the hallway of school.

"They both dragged me down to the ground," she said.

Jones said she didn't know the girls, who were freshmen. She said the fight was broken up by janitors.

Jones suffered a concussion and bruised ribs, and she has not been back to school since the attack because she heard from her friends that the girls were saying if she came back to school they would shoot her and her family.

"It's been terrible and sad because it's my senior year," she said.

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Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne heard from other parents about violence in the North Babylon School District. One mother said her 9th grade daughter was punched in the face in school, while the mother of a 6th grade boy said her son was tackled by a group of boys in gym class and suffered a broken wrist.

A student at Robert Moses Middle School said she was confronted recently by a girl in the bathroom asking her to fight.

"She started hitting me in the back of the head," the girl said.

Parents are getting involved too.

Suffolk police said that on March 18, Racquel Stewart, of North Babylon, attacked a boy with a metal pipe because she said the boy had been bothering her son in school and beat him up.

According to the criminal complaint, Stewart "did strike the juvenile victim repeatedly with a metal pipe, causing a fractured bone to his left arm that required medical treatment at Good Samaritan Hospital."

According to the complaint, Stewart told police, "I know it was wrong. I let my emotions get the best of me and I shouldn't have done that. They have been bothering my son for a while and I have notified the school before. I got upset when I was told he had been beaten up and saw that he was bleeding."

Eyewitness News reached out to Stewart and her attorney for comment. They did not return our calls or text messages.

Eyewitness News obtained emails parents sent to the North Babylon School District Superintendent Glen Eschbach detailing their concerns about violence in the schools. In one email, a mother writes that she herself witnessed a girl being attacked on school property.

"I am very concerned for the safety of my daughter," she wrote.

"As parents, we should have the reasonable expectation that our children are safe in school," another parent wrote.

"I am wondering if our police department should be notified," yet another wrote.

Eschbach told Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne the district has taken steps to address the violence, including hiring more security guards, adding "significantly" more high definition security cameras, hiring additional social workers, and seeking to add another psychologist.

The summer cannot come soon enough for teachers and administrators across the nation, as schools have been dealing with a surge in violence.

"The district has made a concerted effort to increase its security guard staffing in both the middle school and high school to heighten hallway and cafeteria supervision," Eschbach said. "Recent research shows that the behavior issues seen across the country in schools is a direct reflection of the stress the pandemic has placed on children. Students have had their education, schedules, and social lives upended. Many students are dealing with grief, mental health issues, or the layered effects of poverty and family distress. The North Babylon School District will continue to support its students to ensure they have access to resources, support, and the ability to develop the skills to help them regulation their emotions in a positive productive manner."

The violence in schools is not only happening on Long Island, as it's been a violent year in schools across our area.

In April, three students were injured in a knife fight during dismissal at Spring Valley High School. In May, a 17-year old student at Ossining High School allegedly threatened a student with a knife and hit another student with his car. And in December, students held a walkout at Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island after fights involving guns at the school.

Across the country, schools have been reporting increased violence between students and between students and teachers.

In Las Vegas, a 16-year-old old high school student was charged with sex assault and attempted murder for allegedly attacking a teacher in a classroom. In Florida, a teacher was hospitalized after being attacked by a 5-year-old student. And in Ohio, teachers pleaded with their local school board to provide more support as they face increased threats from students.

The Department of Homeland Security warned the public of this problem in a public bulletin last summer, saying the threat of targeted violence in schools will remain elevated across the country as children reintegrate into school and cope with depression and feelings of isolation caused by the pandemic.

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Long Island child psychologist Deena Abbe said children are absorbing the angst of the world.

"The bullying is relentless," she said. "Really, it's not kids being kids anymore."

She said parents have to do a better job protecting their children from our emotionally charged society.

"There's all of this anxiety and stress within society, and we hand it to these children," she said.

Abbe said something parents can do right now to help ease the stress for their children is to eliminate or limit their child's use of social media.

She also said if a parent is struggling with his or her mental health, they should seek help as soon as possible because children can sense when their parents are having trouble and it causes children more anxiety and stress.

UPDATE: On September 6, 2022, Racquel Stewart reached out to Eyewitness News and said she did not attack another child. She said her son attacked a boy after receiving threatening messages over social media. Stewart said a boy also attacked her son previously. Stewart said her son did not use a metal pipe. Stewart also said she did not make a statement to police admitting guilt.


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