City council plans hearings over Baltimore school violence

City lawmakers in Baltimore were shocked by a recently published report on school violence. There have been hundreds of injury claims filed by teachers; the council plans to hold hearings to address them.

Chairwoman of the City Council’s education committee Mary Pat Clarke said the investigation done by the Baltimore Sun was shocking and included firsthand accounts of teachers who have been assaulted in city schools. There were more than 300 workers compensation claims in the last fiscal year related to abuse by students. Data showed that school employees suffered more injuries than any other city job other than the police department.

“I was rather shocked at the incidents that were described,” Clarke said, adding that she plans to hold a hearing focusing on ways to improve teachers’ treatment. “I had no idea of the extent of this problem. We’d better get a grip on this and stand up for our teachers, so we can build the basis of a good education for the children who want to learn.”

The Baltimore Sun reported on the issue and says that the claims done by workers comp show details of the violence, typically breaking up fights that teachers encounter. Medical bills from school employees make up $4.6 million of the workers comp claims in 2013. The injuries range from assaults to accidental falls. In the last year, the school district has recorded 873 suspensions related to physical attacks on staff, and teachers say they feel it is necessary to intervene in fights to prevent students from being harmed.

“We’re in a day and age where teachers aren’t respected, education isn’t valued,” said state Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a city Democrat and another former teacher. “When I was growing up, it was unfathomable, a student assaulting a teacher, throwing desks at a teacher. When teachers are threatened by students, it raises the hair on the back of my neck to say, ‘What’s going on in our system?’”

Shanaysha Sauls, chairwoman of the city school board, says the district is working on resources and initiatives that can help “create safe and supportive learning environments”. President of the school police union Sgt. Clyde Boatwright says that they encourage teachers to contact the police, but typically “adult instinct” kicks in and staff attempt to intervene before an officer can arrive.

“Our officers report that a lot of times … when they’re called to situations, the staff do an excellent job in abating them,” Boatwright said. “However, when there’s something in progress, our guys can be quick to respond, but unfortunately when an injury occurs, it’s already happened before we get there.”

Councilman Robert Curran has suggested an expansion of the school’s police force, and plans on asking for the times, dates and locations of assault and altercation claims to see if there is a pattern that could “guide the deployment of officers”.  He wants to see changes made in the district related to clearer policies that would help the staff be more comfortable addressing behavior issues without fear of retaliation.