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Akron School Superintendent Says the Story of Teacher Assaults is More Nuanced and Less Frequent

photo of David James
WKSU public radio

Akron Superintendent David James took the question of student discipline head-on during his state of the schools address today . As WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports  James says allegations of students assaulting teachers are far more complex and far fewer in number than grievances filed by the teachers’ union might indicate.

James says 114 students have been referred to the board of ed over complaints of verbal and physical assaults. That’s about half a percent of the total student body of 21,000. And the 22 grievances alleging assaults include complaints against kindergarteners and severely disabled students.

'The law does not allow us to just say, 'OK you're just going to go to this school. You're special needs.'

James says the district must take into account the needs of children and families as well as teachers, which is why it is working with the Summit County mental health board.

“The law does not allow us to just say, ‘OK you’re just going to go to this school. You’re special needs.’ We have an inclusion model and they’re entitled to a free and appropriate public education. We just have to figure out how we’re going to get that done and how we can collaborate with the association and get that done and not bash people.”

The Akron Education Association maintains that the administration is violating a collective bargaining agreement in place since the 1980s to remove problem students from their home school.

James acknowledge that race may be playing a part in the escalating tension over student discipline in his schools. The teacher's union has filed 22 grievances this school year alleging verbal and physical assaults against teachers by students, and James said there are racial differences reflected in the grievances.

James on student-teacher racial divide

“Let’s put it like this, all of the students that I  know about in terms of the grievances are African American. "And the teachers?" "They’re not African-American.”

But he also said the problems are multidimensional

James on young kids and big problems

“We have some kids who are in kindergarten who are having meltdowns. Some of them have special needs and are emotionally disturbed. “

James says the problems often reflect broader issues in the community. The district has formed a special committee to look closer at the violence issues.