I-Team: Violence in the classroom

February 27, 2014 (CHICAGO)

READ: Statewide school incident count

Schools are not supposed to be unsafe zones. They should be places where parents can be sure that their children are learning in a safe environment. But the I-Team has found dangerous incidents across the state and inside classrooms, violence that, for one Illinois school, could have been deadly.

Friday, September 7, 2012. It was physical education teacher Derrick Schonauer's twelfth day on the job at Normal Community High School. Everything seemed normal in his first period health class.

But five minutes before the bell, one of his freshman students walked to the front of the classroom.

"He said sit down, everybody listen, it's my class now, I'm the teacher," said Schonauer. "He took out one of his handguns, and when he did to load it, one of the bullets fell down from the chamber. . . Once he cocked that back and the bullet hit the ground and I heard it, then I was like, 'Oh no,' and everybody dropped, and we were just like statues, staring at him."

For twelve minutes, that student held Schonauer's class hostage. He says he was talking in circles but not hurting anyone, until some students by the door made a quick escape, and everything changed.

"He slammed the door, and he came back in, he said everybody up against the wall, that stuff's not going to happen again and he fired three shots up into the air," said Schoneauer. "There was one cell phone that kind of gave him problems and he threw it back to the kid, and when he did, he set the gun down. . . Just like the flip of a switch, I ran, I grabbed the gun, he kind of fought me for it, we took him down. . . Kids need to come to school every day knowing that they're safe, that they're taken care of and that they don't have to worry about somebody coming in with a gun."

"Teachers are not safe anywhere," said Dorothy Espelage, Education Psychology, University of Illinois.

A recent nationwide survey on school violence found that a third of teachers have been physically attacked by a student in a classroom, with about nine percent of teachers hospitalized from school violence.

"We have a problem that we need to address. So, to continue to ignore that teachers, and the teaching profession is such a hazardous occupation, I think is problematic," said Espelage.

Here in Illinois, new data shows so far this school year there have been 259 attacks against school personnel and more than 500 incidents involving weapons.

By far the largest number of incidents are reported by Chicago Public Schools, with CPS officials reporting 86 percent of all of the statewide attacks and about three quarters of the weapons incidents statewide happening in cps schools.

"We want to make sure that all students are in a safe weapon free environment," said CPS Safety and Security Chief Jadine Chou.

CPS officials are using technology in this safety center to monitor schools for potential problems, and can be directly connected to Chicago police with this red phone if a violent incident occurs.

"Every day we want to make sure that our staff and our students are safe inside the school. Every day we take actions both proactively and preventatively to make sure that we're catching these things, but more importantly that we're preventing these things," said Chou.

"I just rushed in and I stepped between her and him, and he backed away from me and dropped the knife. I took him, and I plunked him in a chair, and I said, 'Don't move,'" said Mike Gannon, former teacher.

For former Elgin High School math teacher Mike Gannon, the scope of school violence isn't just numbers in a state database. In 2008, he stopped an attack on a fellow teacher by knocking a student who had stabbed her in the eye to the ground, likely saving her life. He says his instincts kicked in.

"I don't think that that's anything that most teachers wouldn't do. We're trained to care for those kids and to watch out for them," said Gannon.

Teacher Derrick Schonauer says after the gun incident, the school district revised its entire code red program and is sharing the lessons they've learned with districts statewide. Both students in the incidents mentioned here have pleaded guilty and are behind bars.

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