KEENE — The Keene School District is being cited for 60 safety violations after several Department of Labor inspections this year found the district is not reporting all acts of violence against teachers and staff.
Keene School Board chair George Downing said the board is still taking in the state report.
“We only just got the report last night,” he said. “The process for us is just beginning.”
The district is already involved in a labor dispute with the Keene Educators Association, which claims two teachers were disciplined after they spoke out about the violence in the schools.
William Gillard, the union’s president, said the school board has yet to respond to a union request that the district adopt the six safety steps that would address the issues found by the Department of Labor.
This week, the legislative Committee to Study Violence in New Hampshire Schools called on Gov. Chris Sununu to adopt that similar steps for all New Hampshire schools, as well as legislative changes to address numerous problems.
“The Committee’s recommendations validate our members’ and students’ rights to a safe working and learning environment,” Gillard said. “The Keene Education Association calls on the Keene School District to prioritize safety in their schools by immediately adopting the Committee’s recommendations.”
The Department of Labor report found that the district is:
• failing to report all of the employee injuries that stem from student violence to the Department of Labor;
• failing to provide a safe employment environment by failing to adopt appropriate procedures and safeguards;
• failing to enforce safety rules leading to blocked exits, electric plug plugged into extension cords, and other physical hazards;
• failing to have an adequate emergency response plan;
• failing to have enough first aid kits.
The report also cited the district as having improperly tagged fire extinguishers; having exposed electrical wires in school buildings; and many more health and safety violations.
Downing said the board plans to split the issues found in the Department of Labor report among three separate committees to deal with the separate categories of problems raised.
“Some are facilities and buildings, some are staff and overall practice, and some and education and policy,” Downing said.
Downing wants to see the union and the district administration start working together to make changes safety quickly. The board’s role is typically setting budgets and policy, he said.
The state committee, led by Keene State Sen. Jay Kahn, found that student violence and other concerning student behavior is a growing problem for New Hampshire schools. The number of assaults on school employees doubled between 2015 and 2018, according to the committee report, with 1,410 school employee injuries reported to the Department of Labor. However, the committee reports that the data may not be capturing all incidents of violence.
“School employees who have been injured by students may have been discouraged in reporting the incidents,” the committee found.
Violence against teachers is supposed to be reported to the New Hampshire Department of Education, but there are no rules that require the Department of Education staff to report those incidents to any other agency, according to the committee report.
The committee is recommending legislative changes to address the problems, and Downing said something needs to be done as the problem grows.
“More and more kids are coming to school with trauma in their home and private life,” he said.