An often-overlooked aspect of school safety is teacher safety, more specifically, physical and verbal attacks against teachers by students, parents, and other teachers. Due to current reporting practices in Colorado, the public is largely unaware of the true scope of this issue. Last year, in Colorado Springs, a female teacher at Sierra High School was assaulted by a student. According to the Colorado Springs NBC affiliate, a female student “returned to a classroom to get a jacket in the middle of testing when a teacher attempted to stop her interrupting the class.” The student “is accused of knocking the teacher to the ground before punching the staff member multiple times in the face.”
In 2011, the American Psychological Association conducted a study that asked nearly 3,000 K-12 teachers across 48 states to anonymously submit reports of victimization in the workplace. The survey found that 80 percent of teachers had been victimized at least once in the preceding year, with 94 percent of these attacks being perpetrated by students; the majority of attacks were verbal, but 44 percent were physical altercations. Another study, the National Teacher and Principal Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reveals that during the 2015-2016 academic year 220,300 teachers reported being physically attacked by a student.
In Baltimore, school employees report the second highest number of injuries in the workplace for city employees, narrowly coming behind the police department. Baltimore’s, public-school system is struggling to financially keep up with compensation claims filed by its employees who have faced physical and verbal attacks. According to the Baltimore Sun, the two largest school related payouts come from assaults and they both exceed $150,000. The first was by an unidentified subject, and the second by a student. In 2013 alone, medical bills for school employees added up to a total of $4.6 million. Around a quarter of that expense is tied to “assaults and altercations.”
Colorado school districts are required to report annually to the Colorado Department of Education the number of incidents and disciplinary actions taken in response to certain types of student behavior in their schools. Among the categories of incidents that districts provide to the state are first-, second-, and third-degree assaults. The Colorado Department of Education then reports these incidents on the schoolview.org website. However, there is no data that indicates when a teacher was assaulted. In Illinois, for example, the State Board of Education works with the Illinois State Police to produce monthly school incident reports that feature “attacks on school personnel” among the incident categories. In Colorado, without digging into police reports from across the state, it is almost impossible to know how many of the state’s teachers have been assaulted or verbally attacked on the job.
The Office of the Colorado Attorney General publishes the Colorado School Violence Prevention and Student Discipline Manual, which states that an assaulted teacher or school employee has to report the incident to the school administration and to the district’s board of education. The school administration is then required to report the incident to the district attorney or local law enforcement. Given that these reporting requirements are already in place, little time and energy would be required to compile statewide reports on the abuse of teachers. This information is crucial if we want to address the issue of assaults on teachers, as it is impossible to hope to solve a problem without first knowing the scope of the issue.
Jake Fegan is an intern with the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver, and a senior at the University of Denver majoring in history.