Getting Schooled

class photoYou have all probably encountered articles and headlines about kids bullying other kids at school. While that is surely a problem that needs to be addressed, what about the teachers who are put in harm’s way by kids who act up? Whether hurt on purpose or just by proximity, some teachers pay the price for trying to break up fights or for simply trying to do their job.

The Sun in Baltimore published a great investigative piece that documents several cases of violent (whether accidental or not) injuries sustained by teachers in the city’s schools. From what it seems like, teachers are either discouraged from filing claims or ignored. The article features teachers who say the administration knows that a lot of claims will reflect poorly upon the school and make it seem dangerous, so they challenge the teacher instead of supporting them.

“I thought that the school not wanting to report it was more dangerous than actually being struck by the child,” educator Amy Sumor said of her attempts to report several incidents where she was slammed or punched.

The article details cases of teachers getting laid out by students, threatened, pushed, punched and bruised. Just like kids should be able to attend school and feel safe, so should the people in charge of their education.

The article states that school workers reported the second highest amount of injuries of the city’s agencies-second only to the Police Department. Over a third of those claims, over 300, involved altercations with a student. In 2013 school worker’s medical bills and claims related costs totaled $4.6 million. This is a problem that burdens taxpayers, since their taxes pay for teachers and their resulting disability or claims payments. Last year the city spent $49 million on workers’ comp and if previous year’s trends are any indication, that figure is expected to rise. The article also features a detailed database of the top paid claims from 2013. School injuries were right up there alongside what people may perceive as more dangerous occupations like fire or police work.

Baltimore’s risk management office is overseen by Douglas S. Kerr, who said there’s not a great procedure for what teachers should do when dealing with a fight. But should a teacher just not step in?

“I don’t think they have anything set in writing,” Kerr said. “I just think the teacher knows that’s what she should be doing. The question is: Is there another way to handle a situation like that, to where they’re not going to get hurt?”

One teacher said he couldn’t just stand by and watch kids fight. Now he is in physical therapy and feels constant pain in his back and neck. His claim will cost the city $29,109 but he has only been paid $5,798 to date.

Return to work can be hard for teachers. It’s a hands-on, demanding job and Jennifer Jones, who has already used up her sick days and now has a new problem with a herniated disk, is worried how well she will be able to perform the job when or if she can go back.

“I hope I can go back into the classroom and meet the demands of being a teacher, because I cannot effectively teach from a chair with a cushion,” she said. “But how are you supposed to heal if you’re so stressed out about bills?”

A lot of teachers in the article who had suffered an injury, physically or emotionally, said that has not broken their spirit. They have tried to focus on the importance of their job and their desire to help students learn even in the face of risky circumstances.

Is this what teachers had in mind when they chose their profession? While it’s true that teachers bear some responsibility for keeping their classrooms in order, are they also responsible for injuries sustained after a student threw a chair at them or pushed them into a doorway? Even if it means I’d get summer vacation, it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to sign up for.

What's your take? Continue the discussion with others over at the WCInsights LinkedIn Group.
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