OSHA: Iowa City Schools 'failed' to take steps to prevent workplace violence

Published: May. 31, 2019 at 2:33 PM CDT
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Some taxpayers in Johnson County are on the hook for new fines incurred by the Iowa City Community School District according to a new federal report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the I9 investigative team has obtained a scathing report that looked into incidents of workplace violence at Penn Elementary school in North Liberty. Investigators found the district at fault for not creating a place of employment "free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm..."

$6,681 is what Iowa's OSHA administrator wanted to fine the Iowa City Community School District for putting the lives of educators at risk.

In mid-April of last year, OSHA investigators say it was noted staff employed by Iowa City Schools were being violently assaulted and threatened by students at Penn Elementary. Details of specific incidents are limited in the six-page report, but what is clear, is that teachers, paraeducators, and/or substitutes were injured after they were kicked, punched, pushed, and even bitten in the classroom, playground, and school bus.

Investigators found that the school district had not attempted to stop the incidents from happening in the first place."The employer failed to develop, implement, and train employees on the steps to be taken to prevent and/or eliminate workplace violence," investigators said in the report.

OSHA investigators went on to recommend the district provide staff with the means to be able to contact immediate help, that the district starts documenting all incidents of workplace violence, and that after an incident they conduct an investigation overseen someone who has been properly trained to do so, among others.

Iowa City Schools settled their fines from OSHA for $1,500.

I9 reached out to Iowa City Schools community affairs coordinator, Kristin Pederson, including Superintendent Stephen Murley, and asked if someone was available to discuss what the district has done to make sure what OSHA found never happens again but were told no one was available. Iowa City Schools administrators have declined every interview request the I9 investigative team has made since November 2017.

Pederson sent the following statement to I9 via email:

"Thank you for letting us know that the story is airing this evening. As you may be aware, today was the last day of school for our District. As such, the administrative team has been extremely busy with end of the year priorities. In terms of your question, the District is complying with the OSHA order and the required documents have been posted as stipulated. Staff and student safety has been and will continue to be of paramount importance within our District.

In response to your follow-up question, yes, the District does track employee workplace violence incidents and complaints involving students and staff. It has been a standing practice for the District."

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