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Muri: Mental health issues root of violence

A string of incidents at Ector County ISD schools has prompted concerns about rising violence and causes of it. Superintendent Scott Muri said the stabbings, threats and fights are due to a variety of factors and he observed that some students are continuing to struggle with mental health issues that comes out in the form of violent behavior.

During his media call Wednesday, Muri said it’s only about 1 percent of students that handle their issues with violence, but they’re the ones that get the most attention.

Other students may deal with social-emotional issues by secluding themselves from their friends or in the way they joke or make fun of people.

The pandemic and other situations in society today have created an environment where children continue to struggle with their thoughts and feelings, he said.

“We have one group of students that can display violent behaviors and I would like to address that today,” Muri said Wednesday. “As adults, we know that violence is not the way we solve problems. We as human beings are equipped with intelligent minds. We use our mouths; we use our words to solve the conflicts that we have with others. One of the responsibilities we have as adults is to share that knowledge and information with our children.”

“It is our responsibility to make sure that our kids are well equipped to handle conflicts when they arise in their life, and again, our responsibility is to use our words,” he added.

As a school system, one of the things they do at all levels is equip students with strategies they can use should they get into a conflict or disagreement with someone.

“ECISD also provides consequences when students choose to misbehave or use violent actions,” Muri said. “We have a very explicit set of rules and consequences that we provide for those children. Today, we need the help of our parents and our guardians. Those other adults that are involved in the lives of our children as our kids continue to display violent behaviors at every level. It’s something that we must address as a community, as a society, and certainly as a school system,” he added.

The district’s commitment to students is to continue to inform them and educate them on the appropriate ways to deal with their behaviors, but also to provide structure, rules and consequences should they choose to misbehave, Muri said.

“We ask that our parents remind children of appropriate behavioral expectations. When your child gets into a conflict with another student, remind them to use their words to solve their problems and not resort to violence. Violent behavior can have long-lasting consequences for our students and we need to remind them of that,” Muri said. “Choosing to exercise violence, whether in the community or in our schools, once again, can result in long-term consequences that can have dire effects on our children.”

The responsibility for adults is to ensure that children know how to behave appropriately should they be involved in a situation in which they feel uncomfortable, or confronted.

“Again, as human beings our words are the greatest strategy to deal with conflict should it choose to arise. ECISD will continue to work with our families (and) with members of our community to help inform our kids and to encourage them to behave in appropriate ways. But we will also continue to provide rigid structures and processes and systems to ensure that our kids are compliant with the rules and procedures we have in place. Our goal is to make sure all our students have a healthy academic experience every single day in each campus — elementary, middle school and high school — within our environment,” Muri said.

If parents are struggling with their children and need some assistance, Muri encourages them to contact ECISD.

“We have a team of counselors that can provide guidance and support to you and your family,” he said. “… Our counselors and social workers can connect families with community resources that can certainly support and help our families …”

He added that many of the behaviors seen among students today are a “mirror image” of what is being seen in society as adults deal with mental health issues. The problem is nationwide, not just in ECISD, Muri said.

“We’ve seen that escalate across the country right now and we as a society have to get a handle on that,” he said.

For teachers that are having difficulties, Muri said counselors are available through the district’s insurance program.

Asked about the status of the teacher from Bowie Middle School who had a student attack her over a cell phone and whether the student would be coming back to school, Muri said he couldn’t comment about either.

He said parents are involved immediately when a child commits a criminal offense at school.

“… Law enforcement officers are involved, so there is a legal side of this when police are involved. That is separate and apart from the school district, but when there are legal consequences involved certain children can be arrested, there are charges filed (and) they go through the legal system,” Muri said.

“When I talk about long-term consequences, those are the types of consequences in which we must inform and remind our children when you break the law consequences can be long lasting,” he added.

From a school district perspective, when a child violates the Code of Conduct, the district takes action.

“Our Code of Conduct is available. It’s online; it’s available to all our families. Every family gets a copy that we follow the rules based upon the behavior of the child. We apply the appropriate consequence to that particular child and parents or guardians, whoever is responsible for the child, we make those connections immediately.

“If a child commits a crime or has an egregious violation of the student Code of Conduct, parents are always engaged in that process to fully understand what has happened to their particular child and then what their responsibilities are as a parent,” he said.

He added that less than 1 percent of students act out. “You know, 99 percent of our kids come to school every day and they do what they’re supposed to do. I think as a school system and as a member of this community, and really as a society, we must keep in mind that the vast majority of adults in society and the vast majority of children do exactly what they are supposed to do. They are well behaved every single day. It is the anomaly. It is the one or two that misbehave, unfortunately, that get a great deal of attention,” Muri said.

“But because we’ve seen a rise in violent behaviors, we want to make sure that not only do we have conversations with all of our students but that our parents and guardians are having those same conversations at home and that hopefully together between what kids are hearing from us and what they’re hearing from parents we can get that less than 1 percent under control,” he added.

Muri said they aren’t seeing a common motive in the incidents that have occurred.

“It’s kid relationships. It is a student, if you will, losing their temper, getting angry and then resorting to violent behavior and it’s the violence that has to stop,” he said. “We all become angry. That is a normal, natural, human reaction is to become angry. … It’s what we choose to do with that anger that we have to help our kids know and understand when you become angry with somebody what is the right way to respond …”

Muri said he believes what the district has in place is working.

“We are seeing more of it; more violent behaviors across our country and across our state. Our children are asking for more help and so our responsibility, we’re going to elevate if you will, the amount of help that we’re providing. Do we need more counselors? Do we need more social emotional support? Do we need more guidance? What specific actions must we take because we have to provide the kind of support that our kids need. It’s just the number of incidents is increasing, and again, we see that in society. Adult incidents are on the rise as well and what is our response as a society to that? So yes, we have to make some change because we’re seeing more violence,” he said.

Muri said ECISD has talked to some other organizations in the community such as mental health professionals and law enforcement agencies about how they can work together to help solve these issues.

“I commend our law enforcement agencies — ECISD police, the Odessa police, the Sheriff’s department. There is a very healthy relationship between all the law enforcement agencies in our community and we are fortunate to live in a community in which there is such communication and we help each other. They share information that helps the community and the school system address issues. We’re very appreciative of that. We need to continue to have those same conversations with our mental health community — all the mental health professionals in our community — as we continue to see issues with children and families. That exchange of information is important so that together we can provide solutions,” Muri said.

He added that the greatest resource is moms, dads and guardians. They must partner together because when everyone works together they can provide the right type of support for children.

Muri said there are a variety of reasons that children misbehave.

“But when a child resorts to violent behavior that is abnormal,” he said. “That is a mental health issue because that is something that is not normal. It is not normal to (resort) to violence to solve problems and certainly that can be created. The home situation can create that; a community situation; a school situation. There are a variety of things that can drive kids to behaving poorly, but it’s our responsibility as adults, again, to be really good role models for our kids and be guides and mentors to them to help them know and understand when you’re in a tough situation what’s the appropriate response that you should display,” Muri said. “Kids have to be taught that. We aren’t born knowing that. These are things that we learn throughout our life.”

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