It’s been well-documented that government-forced school shutdowns during the pandemic have contributed to learning loss among students. But now there is more evidence of increased social and behavioral problems among K-12 students in public schools arising from the pandemic.

The annual School Pulse Panel, a survey published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences, revealed the troubling trends.

More than eight in 10 public schools “have seen stunted behavioral and socioemotional development in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the survey. “Minor offenses, such as tardiness and classroom disruptions, are the most frequently cited illicit behaviors that have increased in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The behavior problems are landing right here in North Carolina. Just this week, school officials and local law enforcement in Iredell County held a press conference announcing steps to counter fights and violence on school property. Iredell County schools have expelled 10 students in 2023 so far for violent incidents. Iredell County Schools Superintendent Jeff James is asking parents to lobby state lawmakers to give local districts more authority over disciplinary matters, according to the Iredell Free News.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has called on the General Assembly to prioritize discipline and safety in public school classrooms.

According to the School Pulse Panel, 84% of surveyed public school officials said the pandemic had “negatively impacted the behavioral development of students” in their schools. Thirty-percent reported an increase in bullying as a result of the pandemic, 33% physical attacks between students, and 36% threats of physical attacks or fights between students.

Moreover, 49% reported a jump in student “rowdiness outside of the classroom (e.g., hallways, lunchroom),” 56% “classroom disruptions from student misconduct,” 42% “use of cell phones, computers, other electronics when not permitted,” and 24% vandalism.

Even more trouble, the survey noted an increase in threats or violence against teachers. Eleven percent of public schools reported an increase in physical attacks on teachers or staff members influenced by the pandemic, 13% threats to injure a teacher or staff member, and 36% verbal abuse of teachers or staff members.

“Too many of our schools have become disorderly, unruly, and unfit for learning,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “We need to allow our schools to enforce order so that all students can learn. Being in a safe and comfortable environment are two important requirements for teachers and students to participate in learning. If those aren’t present, parents must be empowered to move their child to a school that fits his or her needs.”

The School Pulse Panel results come on the heels of the latest Nation’s Report Card from the U.S. Department of Education, showing test scores in reading and math in public schools at their lowest levels in decades.