Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The 2021 school year has brought a host of challenges for Albuquerque Public Schools as students and staff transition from nearly two years of online learning back into the classroom.
But while issues around staffing shortages and masking remain, New Mexico’s largest school district is also having to contend with increased violence and vandalism.
In a letter posted to the APS website last week, Superintendent Scott Elder wrote that the pandemic has exacerbated normal mental health and behavioral challenges resulting in an uptick of violence at schools.
“There is no evidence or research yet to explain some of the discipline issues we’re experiencing in our schools,” he wrote in the letter. “Still, we believe the rise in violence and unacceptable behavior posted to social media and reported in the news can be attributed to school closures and strains at home like unemployment, illness, and other hardships so many are facing due to the pandemic.”
He said normal issues like arguments, fights, vandalism and inappropriate use of social media have surged since returning to the classroom.
The district has dealt with two high-profile shootings – including a fatal shooting at Washington Middle School – since the semester began in early August.
Both shootings resulted in students being charged.
Elder said some of the issues are due to “developmental struggles caused by limited access to peers.”
“All students lost more than a year of socialization and growth skills,” he wrote in an email. “We also have students who rely on specialized counseling services that were hard to deliver during the pandemic, so they have been impacted.”
Some of the increased vandalism can be traced to an online social media trend, APS School Board President David Peercy said.
The viral Devious Licks TikTok challenge, which began several weeks ago, has inspired students across the country to steal items like fire extinguishers and soap dispensers from schools or to vandalize restrooms.
The antics are then recorded and posted on TikTok, a popular video sharing app.
Peercy said that most, if not all, high schools in APS have been vandalized as a result of the challenge, as have some middle schools.
TikTok has since announced that it will ban posts related to the challenge.
Peercy said the rise in vandalism and violence is not isolated to just APS, but is instead part of a national trend.