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Proposal would take ‘first step’ in addressing student assaults on teachers

Following recent high-profile reports of student violence against teachers in Minnesota schools, a proposal sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) seeks to provide teachers some immediate support while collecting data to better understand the scope of the issue.  

HF3679 would require districts to notify teachers and support staff before placing a student with “a history of violent behavior” in their classrooms and would allow teachers the authority to remove students from their classrooms for misconduct. The bill would also require districts to report details of student assaults to the Education Department and would establish a ‘Victims of School Violence’ fund to pay for related medical and legal expenses if no other compensation is available.

The House Education Finance Committee held the bill over Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. There is no Senate companion.

“No doubt this is a complex problem,” Loon said, ‘but I do think we need to take the first step.”  

Debbie York, a retired first-grade teacher at Countryside Elementary School in Edina, tells the House Education Finance Committee April 5 how she was assaulted and needed three surgeries afterward. The committee was debating HF3679, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon, right, a student disciplinary data bill. Photo by Tom Olmscheid

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) said acting before looking deeply at broader issues of racial disparities and mental health would be a “big mistake” that could lead to unintended consequences.

“When you look at the incredible disparities that exist in the administration of school discipline practices that fall squarely, unarguably along racial lines, it begs the question about big systemic behaviors and attitudes,” he said.

He voiced support for a working group to study the issue, as proposed in HF3313, sponsored by Rep. Drew Christensen (R-Burnsville), which awaits action by the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee. A companion, SF2814, sponsored by Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

Loon said her bill could “work in tandem” with the working group but serves as an attempt to “provide some immediate relief” for teachers and staff in dangerous situations.

Several current and former teachers testified in support of Loon’s bill, including Debbie York, who said assaults by students in her former classrooms required three surgeries that had left her unable to continue teaching. Many teachers are discouraged by administrators from speaking out about assaults, she said.

“My profession is in serious trouble,” she said. “Teachers get assaulted, they get injured and then they are silenced.”

The bill “misses the target” by not looking at measures to prevent assault in the first place, including  increasing funding for support services, said Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).

“Let’s do the penicillin, not the Band-Aid,” he said.

Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield) said that as a teacher, she has had a desk and a boom box thrown at her. “I think we need to act.”  

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