By Laura McKenna, The Atlantic, July 28, 2020
When ben started flipping desks in the classroom, his teacher Heather Boyle ushered the rest of her first-grade class into the hallway for safety.
Things had begun to unravel a few moments earlier, when Ben—whose real name isn’t being used, to protect his privacy—struggled with a math lesson. He crawled under desks, bumping into other children’s legs. When his classmates complained, Boyle asked him to come out. “I don’t know how to do this stupid math,” he screamed.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You’re going to come sit with me, and I’m going to help you.” But as his frustrations grew, furniture went airborne. Boyle was forced to clear the room, call the principal for help, and wait until Ben calmed down.
Elementary-school teachers in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, had begun to notice that situations like this one, which happened in 2018, were becoming more common throughout the district in recent years. The school struggled to find a way to both support children like Ben and create a safe learning environment for other students. Often, students with severe behavioral outbursts—“room clearers,” as they are sometimes called—were simply punished or expelled from school. In 2019, with growing awareness that extreme behaviors can be triggered by past traumas, Bartlesville’s school leaders decided they needed a new approach.