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A look at how often students attack MN public school teachers

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Six out of every 100 public school teachers in Minnesota said they'd been physically attacked by a student during the school year.

That's according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released this week, which takes a broad look at education issues in the U.S. (Click here to read the full report.)

Within the report's 246 pages is a question about whether teachers have been threatened or physically assaulted by students at school within the past 12 months. The most recent numbers available in the report are from the 2011-12 school year.

According to the figures:

11.4 percent of teachers in Minnesota public schools said they'd been threatened by a student that year. It's the highest percentage ever for the survey, which has been done every four years since 1999-2000. It's also above the national average of 10 percent.

Meanwhile 6.5 percent of teachers at Minnesota public schools said they'd actually been physically attacked by a student – again above the national average (which came in at 5.8 percent).

There are more than 55,000 teachers for the 2014-15 school year at Minnesota public schools, spread across 2,039 schools, the state's Department of Education says. K-12 enrollment was at nearly 843,000 students.

Violence against teachers

This comes at a time when teacher safety has frequently been a big topic in the state.

That's been driven mainly by recent incidents at some St. Paul high schools, which included a teacher who said he was trying to break up a fight getting choked and slammed into a concrete wall at St. Paul Central. (The teacher is suing the school, but the district argues his own actions led to the injuries.)

In early March, a Johnson Senior High School teacher said he was hit in the head from behind while trying to stop a fight.

Shortly after that, another teacher tried to intervene in a hallway fight at Como Park High School and suffered a concussion and head injury.

At The Creative Arts High School, a substitute teacher was reportedly shoved by a student after she took his phone away.

The incidents led to tense negotiations between the schools and teachers.

Addressing teacher safety in Minnesota

With all of this going on, state lawmakers have proposed bills they say would address teacher safety, though none have become law at this point.

Among them:

  • One proposal (in both the House and Senate) would require that a student who assaults a teacher be expelled. KSTP has some feedback from a teacher’s union, which argues for a more “nuanced” approach.
  • There's a working group in the big education bill passed by the House late last month, looking at how to better equip teachers who need to discipline students.
  • And another would set up a fund for attacked teachers to recoup costs, as well as require consistent reporting on incidents. It would also give teachers the OK to kick students out of the classroom for violent or disruptive conduct.

A few years ago the National Education Association spoke with a doctor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign about what types of attacks teachers face. He said harassment and property damage are the most common, but about a quarter of teachers who are victimized experience some kind of physical assault.

“The most severe and uncommon cases are physical attacks that result in a visit to the doctor,” he said.

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