Violence against teachers has reached unparallelled levels in recent years. The American Psychological Association Task Force on Violence Directed Against Teachers conducted a national study in 2011. Out of 2,998 teachers surveyed, 80 percent had been victimized in the workplace. In the city of Baltimore alone, school employees filed more than 300 injury claims related to student assaults in 2013. The only city agency that filed more claims was the police department. Teachers have the right to a safe workplace, which includes being free from student harassment, threats and attacks.
National and Local Teachers Unions
The National Education Association and its affiliate programs have different recourses against student violence depending upon the state. In Michigan, school districts are required to expel any student from sixth to 12th grade who attacks a school employee. The Michigan Education Association and the Lansing Schools Education Association successfully sued the Lansing Board of Education for refusing to throw out four students who slapped one teacher, punched another and threw chairs at an employee. In Massachusetts, attorneys from the Massachusetts Teachers Association help members file criminal complaints against abusive students, while the Madison Teachers Inc. in Wisconsin will institute civil actions against students who assault or threaten employees.
Protocols and Procedures
Many unions and school districts have specific protocols that need to be followed. For instance, if you are a member of the United Federation of Teachers and are attacked, harassed or threatened by a student, parent or anyone else, you should notify your UFT chapter leader and your school principal. You also should fill out a Comprehensive Injury Report and an Occurrence Report within 24 hours of the incident. Your chapter leader will contact the union’s Victim Support Program and the UFT district representative, and your principal is legally obligated to investigate the situation and file a full report. However, the protocols will vary depending on your union or district.
Teachers may use physical force if absolutely necessary. The State of Delaware, for example, notes that teachers may use ‘reasonable and necessary force’ to defend themselves or others, to remove a weapon from a student’s possession, or to subdue a fight. In 2013 self-defense classes became mandatory for school administrators from the Springfield, Mass., school district. The police department teaches the classes and encourages teachers and other school employees to attend. In South Dakota, teachers in rural areas can even carry weapons to school, but they must complete law-enforcement training first.
If you are assaulted and injured on the job, you are entitled to lost pay, medical expenses and workers compensation. Most workers compensation programs do not allow employees to sue their employers, but you may be able to sue abusive students or their parents. The National Education Association claims that many school administrators fail to remove chronic problem students from classrooms. If this is the case, your local education association can help you file a grievance against the school or principal.