JCTA encouraging JCPS teachers to call police if they feel unsaf - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCTA encouraging JCPS teachers to call police if they feel unsafe

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Jessica Erickson, a former teacher at Highland Middle School, left JCPS in the middle of the 2014-15 year after she was struck by a student. She's now working for another district. (WDRB News photo) Jessica Erickson, a former teacher at Highland Middle School, left JCPS in the middle of the 2014-15 year after she was struck by a student. She's now working for another district. (WDRB News photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  A special-edition action letter about increased threatening and violent behavior by students in Jefferson County Public Schools is being sent out to all of the district's teachers by the union this week.

The letter, which started arriving in teacher mailboxes Tuesday, is entitled "Attacked at School" and is part one of two parts written by Don Meade and Tom Schulz, two attorneys who represent the Jefferson County Teachers Association and its members. The second part of the letter, pertaining to worker's compensation and what to do if they are injured at school, will be distributed to teachers on Nov. 24.

"We are hearing from our members that the problem with student behavior is as bad as it has even been and it appears to be deteriorating," said Brent McKim, JCTA president. "Our teachers want to know what their rights are and what district's policies and state laws are if they are attacked by a student."

The letter comes a week after a WDRB investigation showed many teachers don't feel safe in the classroom -- and that disruptive behavior from students and a lack of support from the administration is causing some to resign and leave JCPS and the profession altogether.

"There is nothing more frightening to a classroom teacher than to be trapped in a situation with a student who has become threatening or violent against the teacher or other students," the letter reads. "Teachers can be injured while managing disruptive behavior or when aggression is directed against them."

McKim said the purpose of the letter is to explain the rights, responsibilities and options that "all teacher need to know in order to protect themselves."

In the letter, JCTA says "experience has shown that teachers must be assertive about their rights to be protected in assault situations, to counter the natural tendency of principals and the district to not involve law enforcement and often the media."

Teachers are advised to follow the district's procedures by handling the situation first with the principal whenever possible. It then describes what to do if the teacher isn't satisfied with the principal's response: 

"In emergency situations or where the principal has demonstrated a disregard for teacher protection, you have the legal right to call 911 and ask for police assistance if under attack or injured by the assault of a student." 

The letter states that teachers have the right to call police even if the principal refuses to do so and goes on to say they can press charges against the student.

"We encourage them to follow district policy, but if the principal is not doing his or her job as they are supposed to, our teachers have a right to contact police themselves," McKim said.

However, McKim said "many of our members tell us that they feel pressured not to call the police."

"There is a fear of retaliation and some teachers are afraid of what will happen to them if they call police," he said. "Obviously, that is a concern to us."

Getting caught in the middle after one student attacked another student last year was the final straw for Jessica Erickson.

The former JCPS teacher left Highland Middle School halfway through the 2014-15 school year and is now working for another district -- 30 miles from her home in the Highlands.

"She swung at the girl and punched me in the mouth," Erickson said. "I went straight to the office and said I got hit I'm bleeding. I took pictures and then I went to the doctor's office."

But Erickson, a native of New York who taught in the public school system there before teaching in JCPS, says what came next really threw her for a loop when she voiced concerns about her safety.

"My principal told me first of all this is an inner city school what do you expect?" Erickson said. "I was never asked if I was OK by my administrative team  and no one came to check on me afterward even though I bled."

Last week Superintendent Donna Hargens wrote an editorial piece saying the district supports its teachers and has implemented a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support System (PBIS), which is taking the most positive approach to addressing problem behaviors. She also said the district surveyed its teachers, and 92 percent of them said they felt safe and secure in the classroom. 

But Erickson disagrees, which is why she left the district.

"I can sleep calmly now, and when I wake up I don't feel sick going into work," she said. "I don't think about am I going to make it through the day without something happening to me or another student or a colleague."

Bonnie Hackbarth, a JCPS spokeswoman, said Hargens was reviewing the JCTA letter late Wednesday.

"JCPS and JCTA are on the same page when it comes to teacher safety," Hackbarth said. "Safety is our highest priority at JCPS. It is never acceptable for a teacher to be threatened, hit, pushed, or attacked by a student."

Hackbarth said when a student does behave in an unsafe manner or attacks a teacher, "JCPS fully supports and assists teachers who determine to press criminal charges against that student."

"We also train principals and other administrators to contact police when their intervention is necessary to control a situation," she said.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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