A recent review indicates that assaults on teachers by students while on the job are on the rise in Allegheny County, which includes the Pittsburgh schools. Though the student population is declining within the county, there were 179 assaults on teachers last year, according to the Allegheny County Juvenile Probation Department. This is the highest in history for the county, with a total of 621 cases from 2002 through 2006.
The Pittsburgh schools have three open teacher claims for worker’s compensation, related to assaults by students. One claim is from a 1997 injury, where a student threw an object and struck a teacher in the neck. Another claim from 2005 resulted from a Pittsburgh schools’ teacher-student confrontation on a staircase. The Pittsburgh schools’ teacher incurred back and shoulder injuries by grabbing the staircase rail to prevent falling down the stairs. The third claim occurred in 2006, when a teacher tried to break up a student fight and incurred a neck injury.
The review showed that most assaults are shoving, elbowing hard enough to throw the teacher off balance, punching and hitting, slapping in the face, spitting, and biting hard enough to require a tetanus shot and Hepatitis B and C testing. Though these may seem like minor injuries, some have led to substantial medical bills and lost wages. According to Jim Rieland, director of Allegheny County juvenile probation, most assaults occur in the classrooms, cafeterias and hallways. Objects, such as loaded book bags, are more of the problem than guns or knives in these incidents.
In the Pittsburgh schools, most teachers are members of the Pittsburgh Federator of Teachers (the Pittsburgh schools’ teachers’ union). If union members are assaulted on the job, they are entitled to 20 extra days of sick leave for that year to take care of student-assault-related injuries. Pittsburgh schools’ teachers must, however, meet stringent rules from the Pittsburgh schools district. To qualify for the extra sick leave, Pittsburgh schools’ teachers must:
• Be members of the union,
• Use their own sick days for the first three days,
• File a police report against the student,
• Have a doctor’s excuse for time off work, and
• Get the Pittsburgh schools’ administrator’s agreement that an assault occurred.
According to John Tarka, union president, the union and the Pittsburgh schools have reached a tentative agreement to create a new alternative school, using the current Clayton School. It would be privately run, taking 432 of the “most persistently disruptive students” from grades six through 12. This would remove these troubled Pittsburgh schools’ students from the mainstream schools, allowing Pittsburgh schools’ teachers to be confident of a safe work environment.