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Violence, Threats Against teachers Increasing, Union Says

08 Jun, 2023 Liz Carey

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Houston, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – It may be summer, but the after-effects of the 2022/2023 school year assaults are still impacting some teachers.

Student attacks and threats of violence against teachers are on the rise, the National Education Association (NEA) said. The answer, the union said, is to address student mental health issues and teacher shortages.

On April 6, Steve Carpentier was teaching class in Houston, Texas, when he took a student’s phone away. The student responded by sucker-punching Carpentier.

“The next thing I know I have a solid right hook, or left hook, in the face and cheek area,” he told the New York Post. The student also took Carpentier’s computer and threw it on the floor smashing it.

The incident was just one example of the violence teachers face in the classroom.

In February, a Palm Coast, Florida teen was arrested after beating a teacher’s aide unconscious over his Switch.

According to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Brendan Depa, 17, rushed Joan Naydich, after she took his Switch away from him during class at Matanzas High School. Video of the incident shows Depa running toward Naydich and pushing her to the ground before punching her more than a dozen times and stomping her head.

Sheriff’s deputies said when they arrived on scene, Naydich was unconscious and covered in blood. Officials said she suffered three broken ribs and bruising.

And in January, first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner was shot by one of her students. Zwerner’s attorneys say she had reported the student’s behavior to the administration of her Newport News, Virginia school, and she suspected he had a gun on him. Zwerner also said she told administrators she was “uncomfortable” having the child in her classroom. The child had previously been accused of choking another teacher “until she couldn’t breathe,” Zwerner’s attorneys said.

According to a report by the National Education Association, a teacher’s union, nearly one in three teachers has experienced physical attacks. A study by the American Psychological Association surveyed teachers between March 2020 and June 2021. Nearly 15,000 pre-K to 12th grade teachers, administrators, school staff and counselors about their experiences with physical threats and attacks from students and parents.

One-third of the teachers surveyed reported at least one incident of verbal and/or threatening violence from students and 29 percent reported at least one incident from a student’s parent. Fourteen percent said they had been physically attacked by a student.

School staff (such as paraprofessionals, school counselors, instructional aides, and school resource officers) reported the highest rates of physical violence at the hands of students. Eighteen percent of school psychologists and social workers, 15 percent of administrators and nearly a quarter of other school staff (22 percent), said they had suffered at least one violent incident by a student.

“Violence against educators is a public health problem," Susan Dvorak McMahon, PhD, of DePaul University, and chair of the APA Task Force on Violence Against Educators and School Personnel, said in a statement. "We need comprehensive, research-based solutions. Current and future decisions to leave the field of education affect the quality of our schools and the next generations of learners, teachers, and school leaders in the nation."

NEA President Becky Pringle said the solution to the issue is more funding and more teachers.

"While the sources and motivations behind violence in schools vary greatly, the solutions are clear as day—more staff, more training, and more attention to mental health needs," Pringle said. "And yet, schools are not given the funding needed to hire, train, and retain necessary staff at their schools like counselors and social workers."

A task force created by the APA recommends schools and districts focus on policies and practices addressing student mental health, student engagement and educator involvement.

“What was interesting about the survey in asking about what works was that educators were not asking for zero tolerance,” said Andrew Martinez of the Center for Court Innovation in New York City. “They weren't saying 'Lets's suspend these kids.' Instead, they talked about preventative strategies that are built around relationships — restorative justice and trauma-informed practices and programs.”

But punishment is what students are receiving. Just this past April, a 15-year-old girl in Rockdale County, Georgia was sentenced to one year behind bars and five years of supervised release, after she was found guilty of attacking a high school teacher.

The attack took place on January 26, 2023, when a student at Heritage High School began arguing with teacher Tiwana Turner, during Language Arts Class.

Turner said she was covering the class for a co-worker when she spoke to the student about her behavior, then the student stood up and threw her to the ground. Turner was hospitalized and continues to need rehabilitation for her injuries.

The student pleaded guilty to felony charges of aggravated battery against a teacher.

"She just went off and pulled me down to the floor," Turner told Fox News in Atlanta. "I was in the hospital six days and the numbness was there all six days."

Turner remains out of work and is still reliant on crutches or a walker.

"I can’t go to work; I can’t see my students. I can’t do anything that I used to do,” she said.


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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