St. Paul teacher John Ekblad has no memory of a Dec. 4 attack by a student that put him in the hospital with a concussion.
But he is well aware of the aftereffects.
Headaches, 24/7, he said. Numbness in his right arm. A loss of hearing in his right ear.
“I’m kind of broken right now,” Ekblad told reporters Tuesday — a day after his attorneys filed a claim against the district, saying it created an unsafe environment for students, teachers and other staff members.
The notice, which has yet to take the form of a lawsuit, seeks to trigger mediation talks that could include a request for damages of more than $50,000.
While alleging that the district failed to protect him and others, the notice suggests no particular policy changes.
Neither the veteran Central High School teacher nor his attorney, Philip Villaume, cited any specific failures that may have contributed to the cafeteria melee during which Ekblad was slammed onto a table and then the floor and choked into unconsciousness.
But Ekblad was complimentary of Central administrators and credited one colleague with intervening and possibly saving his life.
In a statement Tuesday, the district said: “St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is extremely saddened by this situation. While SPPS cannot comment about ongoing or potential lawsuits, St. Paul Public Schools does not and will not tolerate violence against anyone in the district.”
The district also said in the statement that it has established severe consequences for students who jeopardize the safety of others and that it has shown it will not shy from enforcing the policies.
Villaume, citing Ekblad’s willingness to speak out on behalf of his colleagues, said many district teachers “are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal.”
Concerns over disruptive behavior by students are not new in the state’s second-largest district.
Two years ago, Aaron Benner, an elementary teacher who since has moved to a St. Paul charter school, said that students had caught on that they were at risk of suspensions for only the most serious infractions and that many classrooms were growing more unruly.
No recollection of attack
Ekblad, a self-described “safety advocate,” has broken up fights at Central before. He said that the district’s behavioral issues have worsened over the past five years and that they have escalated this school year.
He decided to take action against the district, he said, because others fear “what happened to me could happen to them, as well.”
In the Dec. 4 attack, Ekblad was trying to intervene in a fight between two students in the Central cafeteria.
While he has no recollection of the assault now, he was quoted by police at the time as saying that he had been pushed into a concrete wall and that he could remember seeing his assailant wrapping his hands around his neck and choking him. He blacked out for 10 to 20 seconds.
Last Friday, a 16-year-old student pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault in the case. He acknowledged causing Ekblad’s injuries but told his attorney during the proceeding that he did not remember choking Ekblad or slamming him into a table.
The district’s teachers union pushed recently to take its contract talks with the district into mediation. The union president has said the issue of school safety is important enough for teachers to call a strike.
The Ramsey County attorney’s office has seen a sharp rise in cases presented to the office under a gross misdemeanor statute aimed at protecting school officials from assault or harm.
Fourteen of this year’s 27 such incidents occurred in St. Paul. Twelve took place in suburban schools, including five in the White Bear Lake district. One occurred outside the county, but was referred to the county attorney for prosecution.
Ekblad, asked Tuesday if he’d like to return to teaching, said: “That’s my hope.” First, though, he said, he has to heal.