Iowa City Schools board member: district needs to do more following OSHA fine

Published: Jun. 7, 2019 at 4:54 PM CDT
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A member of the Iowa City School Board, Phil Hemingway, says his district needs to do more to ensure the safety of their students and staff.

Hemingway's comments follow a report from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) report that showed student attacks injuring teachers and other staff at Penn Elementary School in North Liberty.

Iowa City Schools agreed to a $6,681 fine with OSHA for failing to prepare and train staff to deal with the assaults. That does not include attorney costs to reach that deal during nearly a year of negotiations.

Hemingway thinks that is a sign administrators have put more effort into negotiating a fine than taking steps to make sure what happened at Penn does not occur again.

Hemingway says the school board has yet to meet to take up the issue of OSHA's investigation and how the district can improve.

OSHA's report recommended the district begin documenting instances of workplace violence. A district spokesperson said that is already a standing practice but when the I9 investigative team shared that with Iowa OSHA attorney Kathleen Uehling, she said: "we disagreed about the record keeping".

"We've got a long way to go on addressing climate in our buildings," said Hemingway. "We get climate surveys every year with the University of Iowa that shows the vast majority of our students don't feel safe or secure in the building."

The most recent survey Hemingway referred to showed that while 78% of students describe the school as safe and welcoming only 55% report feeling safe in class. Less than half said they felt safe in hallways or traveling to school.

Hemingway added he thinks parents also have a role in making sure their kids know how to behave in public and that assaulting school staff is not acceptable.

I9 reached out to the district and other board members for this story but no one responded.