In the latest of a series of legislative proposals responding to high-profile incidents of school violence, state Rep. Jenifer Loon proposed steps Tuesday that she says assures teachers: We have your back.
The bill — presented to the House Education Finance Committee that she chairs — affirms a teacher’s right to remove students from class for disruptive behavior, and requires teachers to be notified when kids with violent pasts are placed in their classrooms.
Both are part of current law, but strengthened under the proposal. For example, the Eden Prairie Republican wants to make clear that a teacher apprised of a student’s violent past would be informed specifically of “any documented physical assault of a district employee by the student.”
Assaults on teachers have inspired greater scrutiny locally after a December attack in St. Paul left a Central High teacher with a concussion and lingering health issues.
The teacher, John Ekblad, since has sued St. Paul Public Schools alleging that it knew the 16-year-old student who assaulted him was a danger to others — and that it failed to protect him. The district responded last week by claiming Ekblad’s injuries were due in part to his own carelessness and negligence.
Among those testifying in support of Loon’s bill Tuesday was Deborah York, a retired Edina teacher who was assaulted in 2009 by a first-grader and then investigated for possible privacy violations after she informed parents that she had been hurt and that she hoped to restore a safe environment in the classroom.
York told committee members that her injuries required three surgeries, forcing her to retire. She said teachers are afraid to speak out about unruly behavior for fear of retaliation. She views Loon’s bill as a way to give back to teachers the voice they need.
Two DFLers on the committee — Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul, and Rep. Jim Davnie, of Minneapolis — said the bill raised concerns. Mariani wondered whether a move reaffirming a teacher’s control over the classroom could lead to improper uses of force or verbal challenges that escalate tensions. Davnie described Loon’s proposal as a “Band-Aid” and urged her to push for funding for school counselors — a move he said could prevent disruptive behavior.
Loon’s bill also calls for creation of a “Victims of School Violence Fund” that would help teachers and other staff members with medical and legal costs not covered by other sources such as workers’ compensation. She has yet to specify a budget amount.
Last month, two bills were heard in the state Senate involving student behavior and discipline. Republican Sen. David Brown wants to require school boards to expel any student who assaults a teacher. DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas has proposed using “nonexclusionary” disciplinary practices, like positive behavior interventions and support, before moving to expel a student. DFL Sen. Chuck Wiger, chair of the Senate Education Committee, favors creating a working group to study student discipline and school safety.
But a study is not enough, said DFL Rep. Linda Slocum, a teacher whose own experience with student misbehavior led her to proclaim Tuesday that she’d “never step between two girls who are fighting.”
She backs Loon’s bill. “I don’t think we need to suss it out more,” Slocum said. “I think we need to act.”