Scoring Our Schools: Teacher reprimanded for her reaction to violent student
A Columbus high school teacher told ABC 6/FOX 28 that she was stunned to learn she received a letter in her personnel file about how she handled a disruptive student after she went to get help.
Lisa Murray teaches at West High School. In January, she posted some pictures released by Columbus Police of two robbery suspects that were targeting areas near the school. She said one student in her history class became angry when he saw the pictures. Murray said he yelled at her, then tore down the photos, and got more violent.
"Within a span of 30 seconds, the kid went from walking through the classroom to flipping my desk,” Murray said. “I felt if I didn’t get security and administration in that moment that he was going to escalate further.”
Murray, who was one month pregnant at that time, said there is no panic button or classroom phone to call for help, So she ran for an administrator.
She said she left about 25 students alone in the classroom in doing so, including sophomore Amera Vann, who was hit in the forehead when the enraged student threw a picture frame.
"I'm pretty sure kids were nervous. They like to act tough but theY were scared. You could feel the tension in the room," Vann told ABC 6/FOX 28.
Once administrators removed the disruptive student, who ABC 6/FOX 28 is not naming, he was charged with vandalism and his parents said he was expelled. Columbus City Schools said it will not talk about the discipline given to the student or to Murray. Her personnel file now includes a "Letter or Direction" stemming from this incident, which described her behavior as "unprofessional." The letter continues to state Murray should not have posted the pictures that offended the student, and she should have not left her classroom unsupervised. According to Columbus City Schools' Code of Conduct, "Failing to provide appropriate supervision of students, within the scope of the educator’s official capacity, which risks the health, safety, and welfare of students or others in the school community" is considered unbecoming behavior."
Murray contends the district has not trained her or many other teachers in how to "de-escalate" an enraged student on their own. The district has also not responded to ABC 6/FOX 28's request for a list of who has received that type of training in its 110 schools.
Bryant Tela, with the Educational Services Center of Central Ohio, trains hundreds of teachers a year on how to handle student confrontations such as this. He said the first step in calming down the student is to get rid of his audience which means removing the remaining students from the classroom.
"In the moment, what happens is we get excited and out processing goes down and we tend to react rather than think," said Tela.
In Murray's Letter of Direction, the administration stated she should have sent a student to get help instead. However, she felt that approach could have been more harmful if the student couldn't find the administrator or didn't make an attempt.
"There are sayings now that are going around about being a snitch and stuff," said sophomore Amera Vann.
In the end, Murray never signed the disciplinary letter now in her file. Instead, she said she's trying to change safety conditions in her classroom and others throughout the district by bringing her concerns to light.
"These are stories that need to be told. I will risk my job to tell these stories," said Murray.
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