It’s no secret that Arizona’s education system is in shambles: there is an extreme counselor shortage, a teacher shortage, and education budgets have been gutted over the last decade while for-profit charter schools have thrived.
Arizona’s failure to prioritize education funding isn’t just harming students’ educational outcomes, it’s now also contributing to a new trend — “room clears” — that puts teachers in danger.
“Clear the room,” is a way for a teacher to call the administration for help and evacuate a classroom when a student is physically attacking themselves, others, the teacher, or vandalizing the classroom.
“It happens regularly,” one Arizona teacher who chose to remain anonymous told ABC15. “Last year it happened a lot.”
“I’ve been hit, I’ve been kicked, I’ve been choked. That was the most scary one actually,” the teacher told the station. “A couple of times I had to clear the room and everyone had to leave so we could handle the one student needing the support, which isn’t fair because nobody is learning at that point.”
The situation occurs across grade levels, according to the teacher, and can lead to objects being thrown and teachers being injured by students, with the teachers having little recourse.
“You can’t fight back, you just kind of have to take it or try to divert the movements of the student or block without causing any harm to the student,” she told ABC15.
The other students are forced to evacuate the classroom and often miss out on their educational lessons as a result.
Several school districts told ABC15 they utilize room clears leave the misbehaving student alone in the classroom, but monitor them until they calm down. The practice of ‘clearing the room’ exists beyond Arizona’s borders and is making headlines across the country, but is particularly salient in a state that has slashed education funding in the past decade — a fact that is not lost on the teacher interviewed by ABC15.
She said she believes school counselors and increased education funding are critical to solving the problem.
Arizona’s school counselor-to-student ratio is the worst in the United States, at 903 students per counselor. That is nearly four times more than the 250 students-per-counselor rate that the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) recommends.
Arizona’s ratio has never been great — it was 743:1 in 2008 — but post-recession budget and job cuts sent it surging to a peak of 941:1 in the post-recession years.
Unlike most states, Arizona also does not require counselors in high schools or middle schools, which means fewer resources for students with mental health issues or those with a history of acting out.
After failing to address the issue for years, Arizona lawmakers finally took action in 2019 and voted to include an additional $20 million school-safety grant in the state budget to hire more school counselors or on-campus law enforcement officers. This will allow the state to add 224 counselors statewide, according to KNAU.
But the larger issue of education funding still looms large over Arizona teachers and schools.
A 2017 study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a left-leaning, Washington, D.C.-based think tank found that Arizona cut more funding to K-12 public schools than any other state from 2008 to 2015. The study found that during that timespan, Arizona cut state funding per student by 36.6%.
While recent years have seen Arizona boost its education funding, in large part due to a 2016 voter-approved proposition, the state’s 2018 funding per student was still almost 14% less than what it was in 2008, according to the CBPP.
And until funding surpasses pre-recession levels, the teacher interviewed by ABC15 believes the issue of room clears will persist. “There needs to be funding for school counselors so we can help these students in a school setting.”