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N4T Investigators: Fear in the Classroom

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TUCSON –  Several teachers and teachers aides in the Tucson Unified School District have told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that they are afraid of being assaulted in their classrooms. We also received calls from teachers who claimed they were assaulted. Only two former employees agreed to talk to us for this report. The others said they're afraid of retribution if they criticized the district.

"I was pushed by a student and in defense of myself, I pushed back. Three days later I was suspended, and lost my job," said Simon Goldstein.

Goldstein says he knows he was wrong. The 82-year-old former substitute teacher shoved an autistic student to the floor last August at Gridley Middle School, after, he claims, the student knocked him down. Goldstein says he should have been suspended for a short period, not fired. He claims he had a stellar record, and often came in early to help wheelchair-bound students. He says his wife, a former teacher, had her nose broken by a student, and his emotions were pent-up for years.

"It was seven years in the making," Goldstein said. "In those seven years. I had been pushed by students, hit by students, had stuff thrown at me, bitten and kicked."

A former teacher's aide told us, "I've gotten bitten, I've got my shirt ripped, and I've got scratched where I bled." The aide was fired after he shoved a student. He claims it was self-defense. "He went after me with a vengeance. I thought he was going to throw a rock at me," the fired aide claimed.

District Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo declined our interview request. Instead, he sent this statement:

“At this time the Tucson Unified School District will not be commenting further on this topic since another local media outlet did an on-air story on this same topic several months ago. We cooperated fully, provided all requested information, and spoke very specifically to the fact that the predominant majority of all physical altercations between students and staff members involve students with disabilities in the district’s Special Education program. The Tucson Unified School District is home to one of the largest Special Education populations in the state, and our students have extensive needs. Continued stories on this topic inadvertently contribute to the stigmatization of students with disabilities. In the best interest of our students and the employees that serve them, we are declining any further comment.”

Dr. Gabriel Trujillo , Tucson Unified School District

The former aide said, "I would love to see them bring back corporal punishment, which they're not going to do. I'd like to see the district stand behind the teachers and the staff."

Goldstein said, "At least make the students aware that there will be consequences for their actions. They all know, 'I can do anything I want but you can't touch me.' And it proved right. I lost my job. I touched a student."

Both former employees made it clear that they do not blame autistic students for becoming upset. They said they think the district and the teachers union, the Tuscon Education Association, need to make it more clear that they are behind teachers and other staff, by their actions, not just words.

The union president, Margaret Chaney, agreed to an interview with the News 4 Tucson Investigators, then canceled. She sent the following statement:

"Every TUSD employee and every student deserves a safe school and working environment. While I cannot speak to any specific incidents, I can say that the Tucson Education Association has and will continue to demand the district address all safety concerns including injuries sustained from students. The reality is, Arizona classrooms are overcrowded and under resourced, especially in exceptional education services. These past two decades of neglect by our state legislature has added stresses to the classroom and not allowed our districts to fund the very positions and programs our students need. Our students need more counselors, behavioral specialists, teaching assistants and smaller class sizes to help avoid classroom incidents before they occur. Unfortunately, our state has continued to leave Tucson classrooms immorally underfunded."

Margaret Chaney, Tuscon Education Association

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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Matthew Schwartz

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