California teachers today face a host of hazards with which teachers in past generations never had to cope. In fact, the students themselves pose significant risks to their teachers, according to a report titled “The Dirty Little Secret.”
It was written by a member of the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) and details the enhanced risk of physical violence to teachers who work with the special-needs student population.
Some students face few consequences
The problem is exacerbated because after an assault, special-needs students don’t face the same consequences that students in the school’s general population face, e.g., expulsion and/or criminal penalties. This means that a teacher who was battered by an aggressive, out-of-control student usually will find themselves face-to-face in a classroom setting with that same student just days after a vicious attack.
One teacher at Rosemead High School near L.A. was punched squarely in the face by one of her special ed students as they walked together on the school’s campus. She stated, “It’s unacceptable. The student was mentally ill and intellectually disabled. I choose to work with these kids and love my job, but it does get dangerous at times.”
Under state and federal laws, these students have the right to be in their classrooms. Even after losing control and lashing out, these rights are protected. But who is protecting teachers’ rights not to be assaulted?
Federal law is clear
While on a local and even state level, students’ rights might appear to trump their teachers’, federal laws don’t equivocate. The Occupational Safety and Health Act that regulates workplace safety encompasses paraprofessionals like education support professionals (ESPs) and teachers alike. Under OSHA, administrators, school board members and others are required to take all reasonable precautions to protect employees in school settings.
It might not be the kids
Perhaps what’s even sadder is it’s not just the students attacking their teachers — sometimes it their parents. Long gone are the days when a student who was disciplined for acting out at school faced additional consequences from parents at home.
Instead, some parents opt to violently retaliate against their children’s teachers for attempting to hold the students accountable for unacceptable behaviors. These actions would have been unimaginable only a generation or two ago.
Some injuries are severe
Whether it was a parent or student attacking, injuries to teachers can be disabling and career-ending. Even after the bruises fade and the stitches are removed, some teachers may lack the fortitude to return to face their attacker in the classroom. Others may be too disillusioned by the events to even entertain the thought of returning to teaching.
The path forward after an attack
In most cases, teachers attacked on the job have the right to file workers’ compensation claims. However, these claims may not fully address an injured teacher’s needs after an attack. Some who were victims of a workplace attack find that the only tenable option left to them is litigation.