A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday filed by a St. Paul teacher who aimed to hold the school district responsible for his 2015 beating by a Central High student.
John Ekblad, who taught physical science and was injured while working as a paid lunchroom supervisor, failed to prove his case merited consideration beyond the remedies provided by the state’s workers’ compensation system, U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled.
Ekblad still struggles with his injuries and fears his career is over. He plans to appeal the judge’s ruling, and in turn, “make a statement that teachers need to be protected and schools should be safe for all staff members,” Philip Villaume, his attorney, said Thursday.
The case stemmed from a December 2015 incident during which Ekblad tried to break up a cafeteria fight between a freshman and a senior, and was put in a chokehold by the freshman’s older brother, and then slammed to the floor, knocking him unconscious for 10 to 20 seconds. The student later pleaded guilty to felony assault.
In a statement, the school district said it agreed with Doty that the attack should not have occurred. The district does not condone violence and has made school safety a top priority, the statement reads. It noted, too, that Ekblad has collected the workers’ compensation benefits to which he is entitled.
“The dismissal of the lawsuit allows the workers’ comp system to operate as it was set up to do — compensate staff who are injured while at work,” the district said.
In a 10-page decision, Doty wrote that Ekblad acknowledged he was injured at work and in the course of his duties. But Villaume said it could be argued that the student, who is black, attacked Ekblad, who is white, for racial or personal reasons — in turn qualifying it for court consideration.
Villaume quoted the student making a racially tinged comment about Ekblad after the attack.
But Doty wrote that the student’s comment referenced not just Ekblad’s race, but also his role as a teacher, “thereby reinforcing the connection between the assault and Ekblad’s employment.”
As of March 3, Ekblad signed and cashed workers’ compensation checks totaling $65,772, and received medical benefits in the amount of $26,938, court documents state. He told reporters outside Doty’s courtroom recently that he continues to have memory problems and headaches, and doesn’t cope well with stress.
He misses “the old John,” he added.
Villaume said that while he and Ekblad were disappointed with Thursday’s ruling, they also believe they have a strong case. Ekblad, he added, sees the decision affecting teachers throughout the state, and for that reason, he has decided to press on with an appeal.
“He feels he’s carrying that burden on his shoulders,” Villaume said. “I commend him for deciding to go forward. We’ll give it a shot.”