Last week, the government presented a law package that would rigorously punish school violence, and establish a school security guard system that would be run by the police. The government thinks that security is needed, however, the plans have drawn criticism. According to critics, the government once again aims to address only the symptoms of a deeper issue.
The security guard service will include 500 school guards, recruited mainly from former police officers and will be constantly present as part of the teaching staff in schools, especially in those that have been most affected by serious disciplinary issues. In addition, a range of criminal activities will be extended to be punishable from the age of 12 (instead of 14), and the family benefits of the perpetrators can be suspended for one year.
Gov’t to Set Up School Guard Service, Lower Age of Criminal Responsibility to Protect Teachers
Gov’t: parents responsible for child’s behavior
The government says there are schools and areas where teachers are at risk, which is “intolerable.” Co-ruling Christian Democrat’s (KDNP) MP and State Secretary at the Ministry of Human Resources, Bence Rétvári, argues that recent recordings of school violence have shocked the public. He claimed that the majority supports the rights of all teachers and students to safely teach and learn in schools.
According to the commissioner appointed by the PM, the purpose is “deterrence” of school violence. In László Horváth’s view, the most basic school requirement is that threats, abuse, humiliation, and intimidation are strictly forbidden and that everyone must be respected. According to the Fidesz MP, “the root of school violence originates from the offender’s family, in their close, immediate environment, so the child’s behavior in school is the parents’ responsibility.”
Indeed, recently, a number of recordings have been made public in which students can be seen abusing, humiliating, even hitting their teacher who is apparently unable to handle the situation. Perhaps the most infamous incident is the stabbing in Győr, in a highly-ranked secondary school.
This is not the first time a Fidesz-led government, namely Interior Minister Sándor Pintér brought up the topic. In 2012, he failed to push through a similar initiative, perhaps not completely independent from inside opposition. Reportedly, in a group meeting, both the state secretary responsible for education at that time, Rózsa Hoffmann, and former education minister Zoltán Pokorni, loudly criticized Pintér for the idea, who had insisted that police must be present in schools.
Professionals: Gov’t once again to treat the symptoms and not the cause
Critics, however, warn that the government, similarly to the drug problem, and the compensations to be paid to inmates due to prison conditions, aims to address the symptoms and not the root causes of the problem through strict enforcement of the law. The question is, how could former policemen prevent such cases and how would students receive them. In its report, for example, liberal HVG cites a teacher who said that the presence of uniformed people would more likely provoke rebellion and adolescent students would view the presence as provocation instead of supportive.
According to independent public benefit association BAGázs, which engages in youth-focused Roma integration programs, crime and violence are only the symptoms. In their Facebook post they argue that the state would be responsible for resolving the problems of deep poverty, low education levels, and segregation. And instead of laws that fail to adequately address the symptoms, “thoughtful, systemic interventions that uncover and address the root causes,” should be in focus. They also argue that parents and children cannot be punished for violent behavior at school until they are adequately protected from the various forms of violence both at home and in their communities. “Penalties are necessary if they are consistent and predictable, but they can never be exclusive- they must be supported by a social safety network and local communities.”
And the Teacher’s Trade Union (PSZ) also disagrees with the government’s plan. In its statement, the organization writes that whereas it rejects any form of violence in schools and agrees that a peaceful atmosphere are necessary conditions for teachers and students to function properly in, it believes the most effective way to contain or prevent school aggression is to increase the numbers of ancillary staff such as teaching assistants, family and youth-protection professionals, and school psychologists.
PSZ also complains that the bill fails to adequately define the powers of the proposed school security guards and their relation to the teachers: (if they could intervene against them as well for example), if they will intervene in conflicts between students, or in its current form, institution leaders wouldn’t have a say in their duties.
Another trade union, the National Teacher’s Chamber (NPK), considered to be close to the government, deems it important that school guards should only be employed if there is a real need for them in the school, if the board or teaching staff agrees with the need for police presence. In an interview with pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet, NPK also highlights that the guards’ mandate should be for a fixed period and their contract to be extended only if the teaching staff agrees. They also oppose giving full power to the guards, meaning that institution leaders should have the right to manage them. The Teacher’s Chamber says if there is no imminent threat, the guards could only propose measures which would depend on approval.
LMP: school guards system is not a solution
According to green opposition LMP, school guards is not a solution for school violence and urged social measures and tailored training. Behaviour-related problems do exist in schools, but should be addressed from a social or educational aspect, national secretary Máté Kanász-Nagy told an online press conference. While MP Krisztina Hohn called on the government to introduce conflict-management training programmes for teachers, enhance school psychologist programmes and boost cooperation between family protection experts and schools.
featured image: illustration; via Attila Balázs/MTI