GREEN BAY, Wisc. — A Wisconsin teacher has resigned from her job in providing emotional testimony about the increasingly out-of-control violent and sexually harassing behavior of students, which she believes is a threat to the safety of both students and staff.
“I must resign even though I have a broken heart, because I cannot survive in this unhealthy and unsafe environment any longer,” Washington Middle School sixth grade teacher Kerstin Westcott told the Green Bay School Board on June 5.
“We are in danger every day [that] we show up to our school. Students and staff are physically, verbally, emotionally, mentally and sexually abused every single day in the building,” she lamented. “This environment cannot be allowed to continue.”
Wescott, who has worked as a teacher for twelve years—nine of them at the middle school—and is a Golden Apple Award recipient, says she has watched student behavior increasingly worsen over the past five years, and especially this past school year.
She said that teachers are daily cursed at and called “vile, crude and sexual names.” She offered copies of a page-long list of remarks that students had made in just the last two days.
“I wanted you to feel how we feel when these things are said to us,” Wescott lamented, advising that the statements were so bad they couldn’t be repeated out loud. “Ultimately, you have to know that these things are said to your employees and your children—all day, every day.”
Wescott noted that some teachers have been injured trying to break up physical fights, including one teacher who was taken away in an ambulance just two weeks prior.
“Another teacher was physically attacked by students trying to set off a deadly allergic reaction on purpose, causing her throat to close and her to struggle to breathe,” she mourned.
Wescott outlined that she had instructed her students not to answer the classroom door because some truant children walk the halls looking for fights.
“They pound on our doors, shake our door handles, scream swear words into our vents, punch and kick the doors, and terrorize us while we try to teach and learn,” she explained.
Wescott also said there have been numerous instances of sexual harassment of students by their peers, and recounted a recent incident where a student flagrantly exposed himself in front of staff members and then laughed at the teachers’ reactions.
Some students, the teacher outlined, are selling drugs or bringing weapons onto the premises, and some have started fires or threatened other violence.
“Just last week a student told multiple people multiple times that ‘I’m going to shoot up everyone in this school,’” she grieved. “Is it going to take someone getting killed for you to finally take the drastic action that is needed?”
Wescott said that while the increased presence of school authorities have helped curb the chaos, it is insufficient, and urged administrators to take drastic action. She noted that because of the ongoing out-of-control behavior of students, the work environment is so “toxic” that it is literally making teachers sick, and some are on medication to cope.
“One of my teachers wakes up every single Sunday night around 2 a.m. and throws up in anticipation of the work week starting,” Wescott said. “I comfort co-workers who are crying daily. … We exhibit symptoms of PTSD because we live in trauma from 7:30 to 3:00 every day.”
View Wescott’s emotional testimony in full below.
Last week, Superintendent Dr. Michelle Langenfeld issued a statement to ensure the community that safety is a priority for the school district and that Wescott’s concerns were taken seriously. Langenfeld said that efforts had been underway to address student behavior, and that further action will be implemented.
“As concerns emerged in the winter of 2017, a district office student success team was created … [which meets] with Washington Middle School administrators on a regular basis to continue to strategize how to best support staff and students,” the statement read in part. “These supports were implemented due to our recognition that additional resources were required to address student academic and behavior needs at Washington Middle School.”
“In early May, the Board of Education and administration became aware of the growing staff concerns similar to those shared by Ms. Westcott in June,” Langenfeld continued. “Upon learning of these concerns, the Board of Education and District Administration took the concerns very seriously.”
She said that she had been told by other teachers that recent administrative efforts helped to improve the learning environment.
“Due to our observations and staff reporting improvement in student behavior based on the actions taken in the spring, the district will continue and expand our support of the efforts [put into place],” Langenfeld said. “The district’s plan for next school year, with input from staff and community, includes additional school administrators and staff to provide support with counseling, ELL and special education services, family engagement, and student behaviors.”