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Making Schools Safe… For Teachers:  How Some Local Teachers Plan to Stop Attacks from Students

Thursday, August 24, 2000 at 3:37 PM

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Today is the first day of school for more than 70,000 students in the Cleveland school district. While kids prepare for a short week, teachers are making extra plans. Tomorrow, their union continues contract talks with the city school district. At the top of the union's list: issues surrounding teacher safety. 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports what the teachers union and school district are proposing to stop the attacks by students against their teachers.

Yolanda Perdomo- Leon Matthews is a 16-year veteran of the Cleveland schools, and says he’s seen it all. But he never expected to be violently assaulted and permanently injured by one of his students at Lincoln West High School.

Leon Matthews- I was hit in the eye with brass knuckles in. I have a bruised nerve in my eye right now. The tear duct, on a windy day, its like I’m crying, as if I was at a funeral.

YP- The incident prompted Mathews to get involved with the Cleveland teacher’s union to work on measures protecting other teachers who’ve also been attacked on school grounds. Last year, teachers filed 135 assault reports with the union. That’s more than double the number documented two years ago. Teachers have reported everything from profanities to physical assaults, including students biting, kicking, hitting, slapping, and punching their teachers. More than a third of the incidents were serious enough for the teacher to contact the police. And most of the incidents were committed by 7th graders, followed by kids in the 2nd grade. William Wendling is the chief communications officer for the Cleveland school district. He acknowledges that violence is an issue, but that its not limited to the classroom.

William Wendling- I think there’s probably a problem with violence everywhere in our society. As much as schools are part of a membrane through which everything in the neighborhood passes in the building and stuff, the violence carries over in the schools.

Joanne Demarco- What’s a crime on the outside of the school buildings is a crime on the inside. So if someone comes and punches a teacher, or punches a kid, its not going to be tolerated. Nor should it be.

YP- 31-year teaching veteran Joanne Demarco is the vice president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. In their contract negotiations, the union has demanded a process called ‘right of removal.’ It would allow teachers to immediately remove hostile or disruptive students form the classroom. And these students would not be allowed to return until they got help to modify their behavior. Wendling says the union and district have tentatively on the right of removal. In addition, the district will spend $21 million on safety measures, including more security and police officers, and surveillance equipment. He says mistakes made last year when several violent students were allowed back into the classroom after a few days of suspension will not be repeated.

WW- We are dedicated to fixing those areas for this fall and making sure that safety and security are at the top of the list for students and teachers, for staff, for everyone who comes into our buildings.

YP- Teacher Joanne Demarco says while metal detectors and increased security can help, she feels the district could do more. Demarco says emotionally troubled kids need separate and specialized schools. This year, two schools - Nathaniel Hawthorn and Charles Orr - are set up to for those students. But she says more schools are needed. And that’s something the school district isn’t planning on building anytime soon.

JD- There are youngsters that need help. There is no other way to put it. They’re not getting it at home, they’re not getting the home training, and we all know there are 20 different reasons why. The teacher, God bless the teacher, she’s in there trying, but she can’t be everything to everybody. She’s not a social worker, and a police officer, and a guidance counselor. She’s trained to teach. So someone has to address the needs of these disruptive kids.

KS- The Cleveland City School District and Teacher’s Union caution that violence against teachers is still the exception - not the rule. Union officials estimate that only 5 - 15% of any school population is disruptive. The issue of teacher safety will be brought up again at the next bargaining meeting between the union and the district. The teacher’s contract with the Cleveland city schools expires a week from today. And if no agreement is reached, the union says they have a 94% percent vote to strike. Yolanda Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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