Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – By the end of April, the number of workers’ compensation claims over teachers being attacked in the Sarasota County School District was higher than the combined claims filed the two years before and almost double the average of the previous five years.
According to Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association, there have been 149 claims for teachers being hit, punched or kicked by students. In 2018, that number was 88. The year before that, the number of workers’ compensation claims for attacks was 55. In 2016, 2015 and 2014, the numbers were 40, 79 and 62, respectively.
Representatives from the teachers union in the district say control in the district has shifted from the teachers to the students and that teachers are ill-equipped to handle violent attacks from their charges.
“It has gone downhill so quickly. There are no repercussions. They can hit you, they can spit on you — there are no repercussions,” Sue Leo, a paraprofessional at the school told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “I’ve seen teachers just sit there and these kids are beating on them. They don’t know what to do. You are not allowed to touch these kids at all. (Administration) will not back you up.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Sarasota is not alone. According to a report released in March 2018, 10 percent of public school teachers reported being threatened with injury by a student from their school. And 6 percent of teachers reported actually being attacked by students, a number higher than all previous surveys, the organization said in a statement.
But those numbers may be much higher, experts said.
In a study of violence against teachers, the American Psychological Association found that one in five teachers never report attacks made on them to the administration. Nearly a quarter of the teachers who are attacked tell their families about the incident and 14 percent never tell their colleagues.
In Sarasota, the teacher union released the data in a full-page color ad in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The ad listed dozens of incidents where teachers were hit, bit, or spit upon. In one incident, a student hit a teacher with a metal thermos resulting in an injury that required two staples.
It’s a trend that has been growing. In 2008, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics noted that only 7 percent of the teaching workforce, or 253,100 teachers had been threatened by students with assault or assaulted.
At Sarasota, the attacks have cost the school district almost $60,000 this year. Lynn Peterson, supervisor of risk management for the district, told the Herald-Tribune that the workers’ compensation figure would likely rise due to costs for ongoing treatment for some injuries.
Peterson said the district was looking into the numbers, but that it was not immediately clear why the claims in the district have gone up.
“We have already been digging into the numbers and looking at what our high-cost drivers were for workers comp,” Peterson was quoted as saying. “We did uncover that there were some spikes in the claims as a result of injuries to teachers from students.”
In 2013, Jennifer Jones was working at Harford Heights Elementary School in East Baltimore, Maryland when a student in her third grade class pulled her leg out from under her. The incident left her flat on her back and sent her to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Jones workers’ compensation claim for the injury ended up costing the school system more than $20,000. In fact, that year in Baltimore, school employees reported more injuries than employees in any other city agency outside of the police department. That year, more than 300 claims were filed as a result of attacks by students, more than a third of the school system’s total claims, totaling more than $4.6 million in workers’ compensation costs, according to the Baltimore Sun.
In the NCES report, teachers overwhelmingly report that they consider their safety as one of the key components in deciding whether or not to continue teaching, or to begin their teaching career in the first place. Experts said the fear of attack can take a toll on teachers’ emotional and mental well-being, as well as take a toll on the schools by leaving them with an inability to lure good candidates to teach there.
In North Dakota this month, legislators told teachers to sue their school districts for compensation. According to the Valley News Live, North Dakota Rep. Marvin Nelson said North Dakota teachers need to sue their school district when it comes to the mental strain of student attacks.
“Those teachers who are talking about the environment they’re working in and how they’re fearful and how they’re starting to suffer mental injuries – the school system… is completely liable,” Nelson told Valley Live News.
If districts are faced with enough lawsuits, he said, perhaps the legislature would feel compelled to take action on mental-only claims in the state’s workers’ compensation system.
In Sarasota, nearly half of the injuries to teachers came from one school, Oak Park, which has a high number of special needs students. Authorities said the number of incidents at that school, which provides education for students from kindergarten to age 22, jumped to 70 from 28 last year and just 12 the year before that.
Currently, according to the Herald-Tribune, the school has 37 vacancies. Those vacancies are being filled by substitutes, the district said. On April 23, the newspaper reported nearly a quarter of all the instructors at the school were substitute teachers – educators the district cannot pay to train.
“The school district does not train substitutes on crisis prevention and intervention techniques; however, long-term subs are trained where schedules permit,” district spokeswoman Tracey Beeker told the Herald-Tribune.
A review by the Herald-Tribune found that the majority of incidents in the district took place at schools with special needs programs for elementary-aged children. Of the 79 remaining incidents, after Oak Park, 58 were at elementary schools, five were at middle schools and another three were from high schools.
The costs of the attacks include more than just workers’ compensation, the American Psychological Association said. On top of the mental trauma to teachers, losses due to violent attacks also include nearly a million (927,000) lost days of work per year.