Students say Edina schools face “unprecedented behavior issues”

One of the clearest lessons emerging from the reopening of K-12 schools this fall won’t be found in a textbook or the curriculum. It’s the outcome of the unprecedented experiment educators tried during the pandemic. They locked students out of the classroom and away from their peers for months on end during the pandemic, leading to significant behavior problems in many classrooms and corridors as students struggle to adjust.

The results described in Stateline, a publication of Pew Charitable Trust, will sound all too familiar to many students and staff.

The grief, anxiety and depression children have experienced during the pandemic is welling over into classrooms and hallways, resulting in crying and disruptive behavior in many younger kids and increased violence and bullying among adolescents. For many other children, who keep their sadness and fear inside, the pressures of school have become too great. 

The latest example of problem behavior in Minnesota has surfaced in the wealthy suburb of Edina, confirming that the disturbing trend doesn’t discriminate between school districts or total per-pupil spending. The Edina High School student paper, the Zephyrus, calls the behavior breakdown “unprecedented” in a story posted on its website.

While official suspension data will be compiled near the end of the semester, the first two months of school have demonstrated an emerging trend for the 2021-22 school year: Edina’s suspensions are appearing to exceed the number that were applied for the entirety of 2020-21. This increase is partially attributed to the irregularity of last school year.

The school district’s resident police resource officer sees a big difference in some students, before and after the pandemic.

“I think kids are more restless, for lack of a better term. They haven’t been in school for a while,” [Officer Joe] Delgenhausen said. “Normally when you’re used to being in school and you’re used to that structure, you wouldn’t see [this behavior] but I feel like the kids are behind maturity-wise.”

The assistant principal at the high school affirms the police officer’s observations. He’s on the front lines of working with troubled students and deciding on disciplinary measures.

[Assistant principal Michael] Pretasky echoed Officer Delgehausen’s sentiment: “Life was pretty flexible when you were sitting in your living room doing school. It’s not as flexible when you’re in the classroom with other students. You have to operate within a system of instruction,” he said.

The hard reality being borne out in Edina and many other schools is that in some respects, educators face a problem of their own making. Students have to make up for lost ground both academically and behaviorally. But as Stateline points out, no one knows how long it will take to turn things around and return to “normal.”

“Nearly every child in the country is suffering to some degree from the psychological effects of the pandemic,” said Sharon Hoover, co-director of the University of Maryland-based National Center for School Mental Health. “Suddenly everyone is talking about mental health. Parents, teachers and students are openly discussing it.”

The pandemic may subside, but its mental health effects will be around much longer, Hoover and other experts say.