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Teacher Attacks: Is There Pressure Not To Report School Violence?

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore City teachers are under attack at the hands of their own students. It happened to one man whose bright teaching career abruptly ended when he was brutally beaten.

Denise Koch investigates how bad the violence is and if there is pressure not to report it.

Teachers are under attack, fighting back against their own students–and losing.

In 2012, students assaulted a substitute teacher at Digital Harbor High School in Federal Hill. A year earlier, a heated argument between a student and a teacher at the Youth in Transition School in Windsor Mill was caught on camera.

Jeff Slattery told WJZ something like this also happened to him. He was hospitalized for a week–his jaw wired shut for six weeks–after a student brutally beat him until he blacked out.

“I turned him around and said, `Go back to your classroom’ and he tried to grapple with me and this situation was just starting to get out of control, just starting to get aggressive, so I literally just stepped back. I put my hands up, I’m like, `I surrender.’ Now he’s standing over me so he’s punching down like this so full force. I heard this snap when my jaw broke. I was gone,” he said.

What happened to Slattery at Baltimore Community High School was not unique. WJZ’s media partner, the Baltimore Sun, took a close look at workman comp claims. They found last year nearly 300 claims were filed by school employees because of injuries received through assaults or altercations on the job.

“I wasn’t defending myself because that’s against the rules,” Slattery said.

The report was so shocking to city leaders, they will hold hearings to look into the problem.

Insiders tell WJZ the real numbers are far worse because not all schools are reporting violence.

“That’s absolutely the worst thing for a principal to have on their watch. The city does not want to talk about it. There’s a culture of silence wrapped around this,” Slattery said.

WJZ wanted to know if this really is happening so we asked the head of the principals’ union if there’s pressure not to report incidents.

“Principals are in a catch 22. If they report the incidents, they can be considered a persistently dangerous school and that consideration–having an impact on their evaluation–that has an impact on their salaries. Our principals want to do right but in some cases, it could jeopardize them,” said Jimmy Gittings, President of Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, AFSA Local 25.

But when WJZ questioned Interim City Schools Superintendent Tisha Edwards, she told a different story, acknowledging there is violence but denying a culture of silence.

“We’re always aware of any time there’s an incidence of violence in our schools. This issue of not reporting is something that we don’t condone and I just don’t believe that about my principals,” she said.

But everyone agrees that teachers are being attacked and it’s got to stop.

“We need to have an open conversation about the amount of violence. There is entirely too much violence. It’s an epidemic,” Slattery said.

WJZ will stay on this story as top city leaders work to keep teachers safe in the classroom.

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