Originally created 11/22/04

Teacher assaults increase in area



Teacher Chauncey Scott had just had his wisdom teeth pulled. So it didn't feel so good when a pupil elbowed him in the jaw at Glenn Hills Middle School.

The 13-year-old girl was mad at a boy for talking about her mother. Mr. Scott was trying to stop her from attacking the boy, and the teacher took one in the face.

It's not uncommon these days for teachers to get assaulted while breaking up fights or trying to direct pupils. In Richmond County, the number of teachers being assaulted in schools is rising.

Twenty teachers in middle or high schools were assaulted during the first three months of this school year, compared with 15 during the same period last year, according to an analysis by The Augusta Chronicle.

Teachers are leaving school with broken teeth, cut lips, sprained wrists and black eyes.

The rise is apparent in Columbia County as well. Incidents in which a pupil assaulted a school official doubled in 2003-04 from the previous school year.

Still, the number of incidents in Columbia County for the 2003-04 school year totaled only eight.

"We've had instances where a teacher is breaking up a fight and gets hit, but it appeared to be accidental," Columbia County Assistant Schools Superintendent Bill Morris said. "As far as an actual assault on a teacher, we've had a few that threatened teachers."

Under state law, any pupil accused of assaulting a teacher faces a school tribunal composed of three school officials, Mr. Morris said.

The tribunal hears the case and determines punishment, which could include suspension - ranging from 10 days to an entire semester - or expulsion.

In the eight Columbia County cases the tribunal heard in 2003-04, four were elementary pupils, two were middle school pupils and two were in high school. In 2002-03, tribunals judged two elementary-school children, a middle-schooler and a high school student.

"All of these children that were accused of displaying violence against a school official were either expelled or given a long-term suspension, " Mr. Morris said.

He said all teachers are urged to report any acts of violence, and each classroom is equipped with a emergency button that alerts the office if a fight breaks out.

In Aiken County, an employee who is the victim of an assault is expected to report it to the immediate supervisor or a school administrator, said William Gallman, the deputy superintendent.

Any pupil who physically assaults a school employee is automatically expelled on the first offense under Aiken County's school conduct code, said Bill Burkhalter, an attorney for Aiken County schools.

He said South Carolina law carries a penalty of one year in prison and/or a fine of $1,000 for any assault and battery offense.

So far this school year, there has been only one assault against an Aiken County teacher. The high school student who attempted to choke a teacher was expelled, Mr. Burkhalter said, and the incident is being investigated by law enforcement officials.

"The board of education takes any form of harm extremely seriously," he said. "This is something that has been a part of Aiken County school code of conduct for several years."

Assaults and a general concern about working conditions are among the reasons teachers cite for leaving the profession.

Last week, university system policy-makers in Georgia were told the state will need 14,000 new teachers by the end of the decade to prevent a serious shortage.

Last year, the Georgia Legislature passed a law giving teachers the authority to remove disruptive pupils from their classes, said Merchuria Williams, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

"What used to happen is teachers would send them to the office, and principals would bring them back. Now, the law says they have the authority to remove them and leave them out," she said.

The law does not specify what happens if the principal brings the child back, Dr. Williams said.

"But at least there is a reaction that a lot of this is going on and something has to be done to stop it," she said.

Case by case

A time line of teacher assaults in Richmond County schools this school year:

Aug. 31, Tubman Middle School: Teacher A. Williams sprains her wrist while trying to stop two girls from scratching and stabbing each other with a pencil.

Sept. 1, Spirit Creek Middle School: Teacher Ingrid Peterson is struck in the face and lip while breaking up a fight between two seventh-graders. She suffers a swollen cheek and cut lip.

Sept. 1, Tubman Middle School: Teacher S. Nobles is spit on by a pupil after she told him to quit loitering in the stairwell.

Sept. 3, Academy of Richmond County: At a football game, teacher and assistant football coach Larry Brown is tackled and struck several times by a player who is upset at being scolded. The student, 17, is wearing full gear and has to be pulled off Mr. Brown.

Sept. 10, Glenn Hills High School: Special-education teacher Maxine Vaughn is slapped across the face by a student after she tells the 15-year-old girl to stop kicking and fighting with a classmate. The teacher suffers a scratch on her forehead.

Sept. 10, Tubman Middle School: Teacher S. Nobles is pushed by a pupil who twice had been ordered to sit down in class. The pupil bumps Ms. Nobles, puts her finger in her face and tells the teacher to sit down. There are no injuries.

Sept. 13, Murphey Middle School: Teacher's aide Edwina Maryland is scratched on her side and has her blouse torn when a pupil shoves open the door of a time-out room and hits the teacher. After getting out, he punches Mrs. Maryland in the face.

Sept. 13, Glenn Hills High School: Teacher Nelle Mobley is shoved to the floor by fighting students, who refuse to stop even after a classmate yells that they are on top of the teacher. Ms. Mobley suffers a sprained wrist and sprained ankle.

Sept. 14, Academy of Richmond County: Teacher Larry Bagwell is struck in the face while trying to break up a fight between two students who shattered the school trophy case.

Sept. 14, Glenn Hills Middle School: Physical education teacher Dawn Young is struck repeatedly by a female pupil who is trying to hit a classmate next to the teacher. Ms. Young suffers a cut to her lip and scratches and bruises on both arms.

Sept. 15, Sego Middle School: Teacher Jackie Holley is intentionally tripped by a 13-year-old girl he is trying to restrain after a fight. The girl hooks her leg around Mr. Holley's leg and causes them both to fall on the floor.

Sept. 20, Glenn Hills High School: Teacher Hiroko Turner is knocked to the ground when two students begin fighting.

Sept. 21, East Augusta Middle School: Teacher Jessica Steed is shoved by a 12-year-old boy after she told the disruptive pupil to leave the class.

Oct. 5, Bungalow Road Alternative Center: Teacher Keith New is elbowed during a gang-related fight involving four students. One of his teeth is broken.

Oct. 5, Sego Middle School: Teacher Jackie Holley is slapped and pushed by a pupil who is being separated from other pupils. The pupil also hits librarian Marshall Connor in the arm.

Oct. 5, Murphey Middle School: Teacher Patricia Waldschmidt is threatened, then pushed by a 13-year-old boy who was told to stay seated.

Oct. 6, Spirit Creek Middle School: Physical education teacher William Murphy is pushed by a pupil trying to fight a classmate. The pupil remains combative.

Oct. 6, East Augusta Middle School: Teacher Betty Johnson is pushed against a wall by a 12-year-old girl. The seventh-grader threatens to beat up the teacher.

Oct. 14, Spirit Creek Middle School: Physical education teacher William Murphy is punched in the nose and scratched while trying to break up a fight between two boys.

Oct. 21, Glenn Hills Middle School: Teacher Chauncey Scott is elbowed in the jaw by a 13-year-old girl when he tries to keep her from fighting a classmate. The teacher had just had his wisdom teeth removed.

Source: Richmond County Board of Education

Reach Greg Rickabaugh, Karen Ethridge and Donnie Fetter at (706) 724-0851.