Akron teachers strike for school safety, more discipline

School violence has become so bad in Akron, Ohio, teachers are planning to strike when the spring semester commences.

Akron Education Association (AEA) announced its plan to strike after failed negotiations with the school district.

School violence is common in Akron, including daily assaults on teachers, fights between students, stabbings, and bomb and gun threats. Although school violence increased nationwide during the pandemic, the problem is particularly disturbing in Akron Public Schools.

“I see my current student sometimes unable to use the restroom at school because they don’t want to walk into a haze of vape smoke or a brawl,” said Melissa Pontius, an interventional specialist at Firestone Community Learning Center. Pontius isn’t the only one worried about violence.

“The Akron community’s outpouring of concerns regarding school safety and security are being ignored by Akron Public Schools,” said Patricia Shipe, president of AEA. “Weeks of unparalleled fighting are now a daily occurrence within Akron school buildings.”

The teachers’ strike comes on the heels of the school board allocating $3.5 million towards new security measures, like metal detectors, security cameras and mental-health programming. However, metal detectors didn’t deter one Akron seventh grader who snuck a gun past the security system in his book bag.  

Shipe blames the superintendent and school board who “water down the definition of assault and force students, parents and families to endure more violence, disorder and disruption to the education of the majority of Akron students.”  

However, Christine Fowler-Mack, Akron’s superintendent, defended the school’s discipline policy which emphasizes empathy over “punitive measures.” 

“Our application of student discipline aligns with the Student Code of Conduct and is balanced with the empathy and compassion needed to redirect student behavior whenever possible,” she wrote in a letter to school staff and parents. “This includes avoiding excessively punitive measures that shirk our responsibility to do what’s best for everyone, including our students who struggle with issues that can lead to unacceptable behavior.”  

The violence in Akron is causing teachers to resign in mass, AEA says, claiming that 20% of the district’s teaching positions are unfilled or filled by an unqualified teacher.  

AEA also expressed concerns of fiscal transparency, citing the district’s use of COVID-19 relief funds to pay for Fowler-Mack’s “extravagant” travel and housing costs.  

The teachers’ strike is scheduled to begin on Jan. 9, 2023.