Teachers Face Violence in the Classroom

Liz Carey

West Fargo, ND (WorkersCompensation.com) – Kijesta Molch, a fifth grade teacher with West Fargo Public Schools, said teachers there come to school with the worry that they may be attacked by a student.

In the past two years, attacks against teachers by students has nearly doubled. During the 2015-2016 school year, the school district saw 68 attacks against teachers. In the 2016-2017 school year, that number rose to 125.

Nationally, according to Indicators of School Crime and Safety, an annual report put out by the Bureau of Justice and the National Center for Education Statistics, six percent of teachers were attacked during the 2015-2016 school year, and ten percent of all teachers across the country were threatened with violence. The rate is the highest it has been since 1994, when it peaked at 13 percent. Also, for the first time, a higher percentage of elementary school teachers were attacked (nine percent) or threatened with attack (11 percent) than secondary school teachers (nine percent and two percent, respectively) .

And while none of the attacks have caused serious injury, they still present the problem of workers’ compensation claims for injury, stress and other illnesses.

According to a study at Ohio State University, the problem may be more serious, because 20 percent of teachers who are attacked, or threatened with violence, never report the incident to administrators.

The study asked more than 3,400 kindergarten through 12th grade teachers about their experiences in the classroom. The study found that 25 percent had been the victim of an actual physical attack, 20 percent were the victim of threats of physical attack, and 37 percent were victims of verbal assault or sexual advances.

In South Carolina, a report by The State newspaper found that 1 in 10 teachers quit their jobs in that state “due to unchecked student discipline or lack of support by campus administration.”

According to The State, one teacher left her job after receiving deaths threats from one of her fifth grade students.

Teachers shared their concerns with lawmakers in September, the paper said. Vanessa Torres, a Spanish teacher in South Carolina’s Lexington-Richland 5 school district, told legislators about incidents where a student threw a chair at a teacher, and another pouring a chocolate milkshake over a teacher’s belongings.

“Imagine seeing a 200-pound student chase down one of your teachers and punch her in the face and break her glasses and continue to punch her,” Torres said, according to The State.

Ryan Brown, spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Education, said in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com that the department doesn’t have any statistical information to show that there has been an increase in violence toward teachers. Brown said student discipline is always an issue.

“We don’t see student discipline any worse now than it has been,” he said.

Brown said the state is working with teachers and administrators to deal with the discipline issue.

“However, in 2016 Supt. Spearman led a Safe Schools taskforce that made regulation changes to the state school discipline code. Those changes just went into effect this year so we will be monitoring data to track the impact,” Brown said. “We also, on the state level, provide training for teachers, schools, and administrators PBIS (positive behavior intervention and support) ‘an evidence-based framework for developing positive behavior, is used in schools nationwide to create a positive climate for learning.’”

Brown said the state also provides two state-level leadership development platforms for administrators and teachers to learn how to support students.

Gary Cannon, executive director of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, did not immediately return calls or emails for information by press time.

A spokesman with North Dakota’s Workforce Safety and Insurance said he wasn’t aware of any statistics that would identify whether or not a teacher had filed a claim for injury as a result of an attack.

Calls to the American Teachers Federation and the National Educators Association were not immediately returned by press time.