Teachers, staff in local district concerned about assaults, fights

PITTSBURGH — Assaults, fights have teachers, staff concerned for their safety at school.

Parents and teachers in the Woodland Hills School District said they are fed up and concerned. They told Channel 11 News their safety and that of their children is at risk in a place everyone should feel safe - school.

Heated School Board Meetings

“She comes home daily and tells me about the fights that occur in this building,” one mother said during a heated school board meeting. “And some of them are serious - like kids getting their heads busted open,” she added.

“Numerous incidents of students vandalizing school property and injuring and harassing other students, educators, principals and our ESP (English for Specific Purpose) personnel,” said Raymond Mulligan, the president of the Woodland Hills Education Association.

Teachers in the Woodland Hills School District have shown up to school board meetings by the hundreds, dressed in all red, protesting what they say are unsafe schools. They describe unmanageable class sizes, furloughed staff and out-of-control students. Matt Edgell works for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, representing teachers and staff in the Woodland Hills School District.

“They’re on the front lines, and there is a security and safety concern,” Edgell told Channel 11.

Videos Show Fights, Assaults

Teachers gave us video to show Channel 11 what they are up against that nobody sees.

In one video, a teacher becomes a punching bag while trying to break up a fight that begins in a classroom and spelled out into the hallway, something school staff said sadly is not uncommon. We’ve reported on teachers injured on the job, students sent to the hospital from class and schools in the district forced to lock down. Edgell said the district has seen an increased number of disciplinary cases in the past two years.

“As many as 50-70 in a day just in the intermediate school,” Edgell said. “Touching a teacher, grabbing a teacher, or grabbing another student or both.”

By the Numbers

The statistics from the state speak for themselves. Last school year alone, 2018-19, there were 78 fights, 19,000 code of conduct violations and 2,000 suspensions in the Woodland Hills School District. These numbers are all provided by the state. In the 2017-18 school year, there were 75 fights reported, 14 assaults on students and three assaults on teachers.

We’ve heard from teachers and even security guards in the schools who fear losing their jobs if they speak publicly. Some told us they question whether or not every offense is being reported to the state. Edgell said he has his own thoughts on it.

Superintendent Response

Superintendent James Harris said that couldn’t be further from the truth. He said the district isn’t covering up any incidents. He said fights and disciplinary action take place in every school district in the country every day. Harris said test scores are up and contrary to what the PSEA says cases of discipline are down. Harris said the district has seen great success with its restorative justice campaign.

But some teachers said that disciplinary approach is too lax and students aren’t being held accountable for their actions and behaviors. Edgell said the staff doesn’t feel heard and he’s taken those concerns to the district.

“Some teachers have become frustrated and thrown up their hands,” Edgell added. “We’ve had to push the district to let us in - let the teachers, staff, service professionals in to help with the process.”

Harris said he wants everyone to feel safe coming to school and said no child can be left in the dark. He said he’s going to be sitting down with the teacher’s union in the coming weeks to open the line of communication. The district also plans to continue conversations with the entire community - parents, coaches, even clergy, knowing they could be a part of the larger solution.