MCKEES ROCKS (KDKA) — Almost 20 teachers and staff members have been injured this year in the Sto-Rox School District while trying to break up fights.

They have had enough and are filing a grievance through their union.

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The Sto-Rox Education Association President Ben Engelhard said this is a disgrace for the district. Five teachers have left or declined full-time jobs with the district since August because of the environment.

The union claimed students have become more violent and disrespectful. They said 18 teachers or staff members have been injured since August. Some were sent to the hospital.

“The teachers should have the opportunity to be able to teach in a safer environment,” parent Anthony Hall said outside Sto-Rox High School.

The union president went with a group of teachers to Thursday’s school board meeting to express their concerns.

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“Good evening members of the Board, administration, guests and fellow colleagues.

My name is Ben Engelhard and I am the President of the Sto-Rox Education Association. Tonight I come to you on behalf of the teaching professionals of SREA and the support staff professionals of the Sto-Rox Education Support Professionals unions.

Since the start of the school year, many changes have occurred. These changes have created instability and turmoil in all three buildings of our district. As a result of these changes, we have seen an increase in violence, disrespect, and injuries to our teachers and support staff. To date, we have had over 18 teachers and support staff injured by students purposely, as a result of trying to break up fights or through situations where students were out of control and ended up injuring them. Some of these professionals were out with these injuries for weeks, leading to lost time at work, lost family time and even hospitalization. This kind of situation is completely unacceptable to the members of these two unions.

Today all of our members were asked to wear RED. Red is the color of sacrifice; the sacrifice we have made since the beginning of the school year either physically, emotionally or professionally. Those sacrifices mean something in everyone’s lives and yet when we ask for help we are met with silence or placation. We are asked to be professionals in an unprofessional environment. We are asked to give up time to make a difference but what we get back is abuse, violence, injury, and disrespect. This is not why we became teachers and support staff. This is not what we want when we come to work every day. We want better, and real conversations about this need to start happening.

My mind goes back to some years ago when Mr. Dalmas took over as Superintendent of the district. I remember as he took the stage on our opening day and spoke to us trying to calm our concerns about the change in Administration. He told us that as long as he was Superintendent he would “make sure that you all can retire from Sto-Rox”. Since August we have lost 5 teachers to resignation. Some of these teachers left to pursue a job that did not have this problem with safety. Some turned down full-time jobs with benefits here to take temporary jobs in a better and safer environment. Some left because they had reached their breaking point emotionally. One left as a Nationally Board Certified teacher who was threatened with violence. This kind of attrition is a mark of disgrace on this district, and in my 13 years here I have never seen this rate of attrition during a school year, especially within the first 3 months.

This morning a grievance was filed on behalf of the members of both SREA and SRESP. This grievance addressed the safety issues for teachers and support staff and sought resolution to the problems that have occurred for our members since the beginning of the school year. It is our intention to seek a meaningful and productive conversation process where our voices are not simply placated or ignored, but heard. Our members will continue to lobby for their safety to any organizations that are willing to listen and communicate with us. While we are not in the minority when it comes to these types of issues, we cannot simply fall into the dark abyss of statistical data either. These are your employees, your colleagues, and in some cases, your neighbors and friends. Is this the environment that you want them to continue in or do you want better for them? I would hope that the latter would be true and that you as Board members and administration would be open to their pleas for help and a way to resolve these problems that we are experiencing as a district. We believe that it will take more than placations or silence to create positive change for the safety of our staff. We believe that all parties must be included in the resolution of this problem and we must work together to create serious change in how we address the safety of this staff. We believe that such change must start here tonight and continue throughout the year with progressive steps being made along the way. We are asking the Board and administration to work with us and help us to make this district a safe environment in which we all work and teach. Thank you.”

This afternoon the school board president Samantha Wright said this about the teachers showing up and issuing their concerns:

“Our educational meetings were created to raise a higher awareness for the benefit of students and teacher outreach. I feel this demonstration from a select few teachers were premature and misguided and didn’t give the district leadership the opportunity to create solid realistic solutions to help supportive measurements. Our leadership has never denied or prohibited our staff from expressing their thoughts or feelings, in fact we value the input the staff has to offer for creating effective solutions. It will always be the boards and the district leadership intentions to move our district forward.”

Hall said this can be prevented by adults being there for children.

“Someone to speak to and make sure that if things are happening and brewing between student and student that those things get rectified before they get to a point of violence,” he said. “If you could have more of those wholistic mentors outside of sports, we’ll have a lot more students achieving and a lot safer environment for those teachers to be able to work in.”

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The superintendent did not want to be interviewed, he stands by the board’s statement.