School like a jungle. Teacher: We are talking about an inability of the education system to respond to challenges

The scandal that broke out at the “Dimitrie Leonida” Technical College in Bucharest, where a student bullied by his colleagues sprayed tear gas in the school, a gesture that put 25 children in the hospital, brings back to the fore the issue of insecurity in schools, but also bullying – a phenomenon totally out of control in state educational institutions. The school has become a jungle where children do justice to themselves, most of the time with their fists, tacitly encouraged and by the lack of reaction of the system itself.

The student who used the spray was attacked by 20 colleagues. Photo source: Shutterstock

Brief story: A 15-year-old 9th-grade student who was assaulted in the “Dimitrie Leonida” Technical College in Bucharest by several colleagues took out a paralyzing spray and sprayed them in an attempt to defend himself. 25 children arrived at the hospital, and the one who used the spray was charged with a criminal case, being investigated under judicial control.

“They went out into the yard and my boy was like that, withdrawn with a classmate against the wall, with his back, and about 20 people came around him, all from the school, and started to grab him, push him, to spit on him, to slap him. They all put him down, 20 of them, and took him by the fists, by the feet. The child got up, he had a paralyzing spray that I gave him, because we live in a neighborhood where there are many dogs”, said the boy's father immediately after the incident.

A rotten system, a jungle school

We are talking, we could say, about a cliché, because the story is not singular. It is repeated perhaps even daily in schools in Romania, and not from yesterday, from today. We are faced with a phenomenon totally out of control. The school has become a jungle where children do justice to themselves, most of the time with their fists. And they do it encouraged by other colleagues, but also tacitly encouraged by the unresponsiveness of the system itself, which does not care much. A thorny problem left only on the parents' shoulders.

The school should assume this role, to educate the children from this point of view as well. That's why I came here. Because we ignored this problem by saying that it is not our business, the schools', history teacher Mircea Bartic, the founder of a private school in Iasi, told “Adevărul”. “It's our job, unfortunately. For the school has become a jungle. We throw the kids into the classroom and let them fend for themselves. We are talking about an inability of the education system to respond to these challenges. Until we blame one child or another… in educational institutions there must be some clearer procedures, some investments made in this sense, including the teachers must be trained“.

Mircea Bartic explained to us what anti-violence methods are put into practice in his school. “I-we divided the students into Houses, like in the Harry Potter movie. The purple house, the green house… and instead of threatening them with sanctions, I tell them… look, if you score higher, your team will win a prize. It's the little things that matter. And I feel that it brings them closer, helps them to relate”.

The conductors are the ones in the front line

Romeo Zamfir is a mathematics teacher and director of the “Vasile Alecsandri” National College in Galati. We are talking about the best school in Romania following the 2023 National Evaluation, where almost 1,000 students study. Here, violence, aggression and bullying are kept under control by a simple but effective method.

We also had a case two years ago. There were some threats from some students on social media. I gave them some sanctions that could be lifted at the end of the school year. And I got the situation under control. We are a lucky case because we have good kids who want great backgrounds. I can't afford a small note to wear. And anyway, I had them under surveillance the whole time. On the other hand, if the director knows how to control her students, the class, I consider this to be an extremely important step in prevention. Leaders are the ones on the front lines, the ones who hold the levers to keep violence in schools under control. We also have a psychologist who mediates any conflicts. Plus cameras installed for almost ten years. And sometimes we needed to see the pictures. But it happened extremely rarely,” shows the official.

The college in Galati has signed a contract with a security company, but the security guards employed have limited responsibilities. generally speaking, they could intervene in the event of a conflict between the students, but they are not always up to speed. And as far as strip-searching children at the entrance, that's not legal.

The child is not checked like at the airport”, stated director Zamfir. “The security company keeps track of people entering the school, whether they are students or not. If, for example, you want to enter the school with a spray in your hand, it will be confiscated, but otherwise… the children are not searched at the entrance”.

And Iulian Cristache is of the same opinion. “They don't have the right to search the students, to check their bags in search of tear gas sprays, white weapons, or drugs. There is no legal framework for such a thing. And even if there were, it wouldn't cope with the large number of children. So how to control 700, 800 students? It is impossible

Professor Romeo Zamfir believes that the incident at “Dimitrie Leonida” could have been prevented. “I think that conflict was not spontaneous. He evolved over time. If the teachers had managed to detect the problem of that child in time, the situation would have been different now”.

Within the “Vasile Alecsandri” National College, many meetings took place between students and different specialists who spoke to the children about violence in schools and the consequences of these manifestations.

We have an amphitheater where we periodically host meetings between students and specialists. Last November, in “Săptămâna Altfel”, we invited a psychologist who came from Bucharest. He spoke to them about violence, bullying and drugs. There were also meetings with the police during the leadership classes”, the director also specified.

We need to work on the “baggage” that the child comes home with

After I found out the “secret” of the best school in Romania, I also spoke with the director of a secondary school in the countryside. We chose an educational unit located in a disadvantaged area: the general school in Scarișoara commune, Alba county.

We have a large community of Roma and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There are still cases of violence, but we do not shy away from them. The best thing is to take them on. Let's admit there is a problem. Only then can we solve it efficiently”, is the opinion of the director of the educational unit, Ovidiu Cioară.

He stated that there is a legislation that he implements. “First, we record that incident. Then, we call the parents to the school. We are talking to them and taking action according to the regulations. Individual observations, written reprimands. But I am aware that the problem is not completely solved”.

But, continues the director, the sanctioned students risk losing their school scholarships and here's how… out of necessity they behave. “The father, on the other hand, is the most important actor in this story. He must be involved in the child's education. The way parents relate to their children translates into the way they behave at school. If there is shouting in a family, the child will also shout. Because that's how he knows how to relate to those around him. This is where work needs to be done. To the luggage with which the child comes from home”.

Obviously, the director states, school counselors have their role. “We also try preventive measures, we have several projects underway. Collaborations with the gentlemen from the police who made a few visits and spoke to them. We try to make them understand including the consequences of their actions. But most of all we insist on continuous communication with parents”.

And Iulian Cristache, the president of the Federation of Parents, is of the opinion that violence in schools must be sanctioned according to the regulations. “The student must know that he cannot do everything that crosses his mind, that his actions have consequences. Prevention comes from the family, but also from the school. We have regulations, strategies, but we do not implement them. Neither parents take care of children's education at home, nor does society“.

“The student from “Leonida” defended himself. It's normal”

Regarding the “Leonida” case, Iulian Cristache is blunt: “The event did not happen overnight. There was something repeated there. And if it's true that there were 15-20 kids against one… I don't think there's anything wrong with the fact that the student defended himself. We're talking brute force here, not middle school kids. A spray given in the nose of the attackers is preferable. They go to the hospital and escape. While the other could die. It is absolutely normal how he reacted. Let me tell you one thing: my daughter is 18 years old. I asked her to take a paralyzing spray in her bag to defend herself if someone attacked her on the street. I also bought one. He didn't want to, but I thought. I have no guarantee that he will return home without clothes, if he comes in the evening from an event…”explains the father.

Professor Mircea Bartic is of the opinion that the student from “Dimitrie Leonida” should have been taught to tell an adult in the school that he is the victim of bullying. “To the school counselor, to the principal, the director… the students should know that they can do this as elegantly and civilly as possible, they can request an audience with the school management, they can present their situation… but no one told the children this. At my school, for example, I invented a procedure: “Safe Adult”. A child who feels lonely, who is tormented by certain problems, who faces a certain situation can talk to the respective adult: a psychologist, a teacher… even I can talk to me if I feel the need”.