March/April 2019 Issue
March 02, 2019

Union pushes to include schools in violence prevention bill

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango speaks with Syracuse Teachers Association member Mark Warner at an ELT instructor training workshop. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Syracuse teaching assistant Mark Warner has been hit enough. He’s had three concussions, a fractured nose, damage requiring two surgeries on each shoulder, and enough injury to his elbows to require operations on each.

Some of his injuries were caused when he was restraining students from fighting or from self harming. Most of the assaults happened after students with special needs were triggered by something or acting out, and Warner was unfortunately called in only after a situation had already escalated.

“The ones where I had to go in and protect someone else could have been prevented with training and a better understanding of trauma,” said Warner, a member of the Syracuse Teachers Association.

That is precisely why NYSUT is advocating for school districts to be added to the list of employers required to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence as addressed in the 2006 Workplace Violence Prevention Act.

Colleen Condolora, a special education teaching assistant and member of the union at Capital Region BOCES, knows Warner’s pain. She has sustained three concussions, a fractured hand, broken toes and a broken finger.

“The majority of the injuries I sustained were not specifically directed toward me — but the end result was the same,” said Condolora, a member of NYSUT’s Health and Safety Committee, which has been pushing for inclusion in the legislative act.

“It was a major oversight not to include K–12 in this bill. Year after year, legislators were told that the SAVE (Safe Schools Against Violence in Education) legislation did not go far enough,” said Condolora, who is also a trauma trainer.

SAVE has no enforcement or risk assessment and requires only a one-time, two-hour training for staff.

Safety requirements are much more intensive under the Workplace Violence Prevention Act.

The bill to include school employees has a sponsor in each house of the Legislature, Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, and Assemblywoman Michele Titus, D-Queens. In January, it moved out of the Senate labor committee.

Under the act, employers would have to work with unions to evaluate the workplace and identify risks of violence, then come up with a strategy to reduce or eliminate those risks. The act would require schools to conduct risk assessment and provide accountability, record keeping, employee involvement and review.

Significantly, school staff would receive annual training. Based on the workplace evaluations, additional training may be warranted.

In Syracuse, Warner is called the “autism whisperer” for his ability to help students in need and prevent problems from escalating. “Every single piece of training I got, I attribute to the union,” he said. He is a member of NYSUT’s School-Related Professionals Advisory Committee and is now an instructor with NYSUT’s Education and Learning Trust.

Training and prevention are also sorely needed at the state’s BOCES, where the “solution” has been to open a workers compensation
reserve fund.

“BOCES are serving more students with severe special needs,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “Accordingly, BOCES staff require continued and increased support.”

The union is urging the Legislature to establish a dedicated pool of resources as part of the state budget.