Teaching Community Shocked After Pittsburgh Teacher’s Assault

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Shockwaves continue to ripple through the teaching ranks after the off-campus assault of Pittsburgh Public School teacher, Janice Watkins.

“It was absolute horror that something like that could happen to one of our teachers doing her job every day,” said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the president of the Pittsburgh Teachers Union.

Watkins was enforcing school policy when authorities say she was bitten while taking away a fourth grader’s cell phone. Later came an angry confrontation with the girl’s mother at the school and the assault a short time later off campus.

Extra school police were at Pittsburgh King PreK-8 Thursday because the teachers are worried.

“A lot of concern about what other parents will do, what other things will happen,” Esposito-Visgitis said.

While sources tell KDKA’s John Shumway that there are ongoing safety concerns for teachers at King, Westinghouse and University Prep, the issue of teacher’s feeling unsafe in the classroom is not confined to Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association’s Matt Edgell says there is an ongoing uptick in violent behavior all the way down to the kindergarten level.

“They are manifesting more physically now, it’s not a matter of disrespect with language,” said Edgell. “It’s violent behavior.”

Cell phones are intensifying the issue, texting ratchets up tensions between students and target teachers, there’s bullying and cheating. And when phones are taken away, it’s not pleasant.

“Most of them don’t rise to the level of physical harm,” says Edgell.

But that was not the case in this latest incident.

“This was an aberration, but it was an absolutely horrific aberration,” said Esposito-Visgitis. “It has every teacher thinking about what happened, and rethinking and thinking about everything that they do with their students, and it shouldn’t be that way.”

Edgell says cell phones and violence is not just a problem in city schools.

“It’s a big problem in the suburban schools…take the teacher element out of it, the cyber bullying between kids, the use of social media for that. Being able to say and do things in a silent way…through social media that cause a lot of issues in the suburban schools as well,” said Edgell.

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