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St. Paul Schools Blame Teacher for Getting Beaten Up and Disabled

These days more than ever teachers need to know school administrators have their back. But a case of a beaten-up teacher shows St. Paul Public Schools care more about political correctness than providing safety for both faculty and students.

The Central High teacher battered by a student in a lunchroom attack in 2015 was in U.S. District Court Thursday hoping to keep alive his civil suit against the St. Paul Public Schools.

John Ekblad alleges that the district failed to protect him from violence when he tried to intervene in a fight and was slammed onto a table and choked into unconsciousness by a 16-year-old student.

The district says Ekblad faced the “special hazard” of breaking up fights as a paid lunchroom supervisor and that his job-related injuries were a matter for the state’s workers’ compensation system, not the courts, to resolve.

After a half-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge David Doty took under advisement the district’s motion to dismiss the case. Ekblad, sitting afterward on a courthouse bench, his right hand twitching, said it’s likely that his teaching career is over. “I hate to say it: [I’m] 100 percent disabled, and it’s really hard to take,” he said.

It’s a tough lesson to learn for someone who dedicated his career to helping inner city students get ahead. The district’s superintendent at the time of Ekblad’s assault, Valeria Silva, got an $800,000 severance package when she was ultimately fired for all practical purposes. But the district continues to essentially blame Ekblad for getting beat up.

Philip Villaume, his attorney, argued before Doty that the case could be considered by the court because questions could be raised as to whether the student, who is black, attacked Ekblad, who is white, for racial or personal reasons.

The district under former Superintendent Valeria Silva failed to crack down on assaultive behavior by black students in particular, Villaume said, creating “for all intents and purposes, a war zone” within the state’s second-largest district.

Hannah Felix, an attorney representing the district and Silva, said that district officials have the discretion to create public policy balancing social and economic interests and had “official immunity” from court action. Silva did not attend the hearing. Theresa Battle, an assistant superintendent who is a co-defendant, was in the courtroom.

Felix noted, too, that as a paid lunchroom supervisor, and a member of Central High’s safety team, Ekblad had a duty to maintain order. After initially balking at accepting workers’ compensation, Ekblad has signed and cashed checks totaling $65,772 through March 3, a court filing states.

Life goes on for Silva, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to show up at the hearing. As for Ekblad, he told the Star Tribune he’s “a mess.”

No matter how he decides, Doty made it clear: “This is a tragic incident,” he said. “It just shouldn’t have happened at all.”

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