A St. Paul, Minn., high school teacher who claimed he was beaten up by a black student for being white has lost his appeal of a federal court ruling that dismissed his lawsuit seeking punitive damages against the district.
Amid community-wide racial tension over the mainstreaming of students with special needs and the role of the police in schools, John Ekblad, a teacher at Central High School, sued St. Paul Schools in 2015 for negligence after he suffered several injuries when a black student slammed him to the floor and knocked him unconcscious as he tried to break up a cafeteria fight.
Ekblad claimed the student used racially tinged comments after the attack and said the district’s workers’ compensation benefits were inadequate. The district also paid his medical bills.
U.S. District Judge David Doty said Ekblad failed to prove his case merited consideration beyond the remedies provided by the state’s workers’ compensation, according to the Star Tribune. Doty also said the student’s comments after the attack referenced not just Ekblad’s race but also his status as a teacher.
A federal appeals court on Aug. 8 rejected Ekblad’s challenge of that decision due to a lack of evidence.
Ekblad was one of a string of teachers in St. Paul who successfully urged the board to fire Superintendent Valeria Silva, in 2015 after dramatic demographic changes and changes to the way the district assigned students with emotional and behavior disorders. Her separation agreement cost the district, already in severe financial distress, $787,500.
Although the teachers said violent incidents were increasing in the school since the changes, an Education Week analysis of the district’s discipline data over five years showed that violent incidents were actually dramatically decreasing, though disparities between how black and white students were punished still existed.
Ekbalt then took his case to Washington where he, along with a handful of other teachers and advocates urged U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to rescind guidance issued under President Barack Obama that urged districts to scrutinize disparities between students of color and white students. Ekbalt argued the guidance left teachers vulnerable to unsafe conditions.
According to a recent Education Week report, in the 2015-16 school year, 5.8 percent of the nation’s 3.8 million teachers were physically attacked by a student. Almost 10 percent were threatened with injury, according to federal education data.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.