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Lawsuit is latest to describe violence toward educators and blame PPS for not preventing it

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Portland Public Schools headquarters building.

Portland Public Schools faces a new lawsuit from a special education teacher who says she was injured on the job by students.

A complaint filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleges the district was negligent and failed to provide proper resources and protections, such as protective gear, for a teacher hired to work with young students at Sabin Elementary School.

Additionally, plaintiff Theresa Demma says the district downplayed the severity of the students' behavior, causing her to be physically assaulted by students on a regular basis.

The complaint seeks $700,500 for negligence, battery, hostile work environment, whistleblower and worker's compensation retaliation, disability discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Demma's lawsuit outlines repeated incidents of the plaintiff and colleagues being punched, kicked and spit on, leaving injuries and, in one instance, requiring a teacher to receive medical attention.

"One of the students in plaintiff's classroom became very violent and was attacking one of the paraeducators," the complaint states. "The student chased the paraeducator down the hall and into the principal's office and proceeded to punch her in the back of the head so severely that she needed medical attention. The principal's office had to be locked down, the police were called, and the student was placed into temporary in-patient treatment."

Incidents like the one described above have become common anecdotes among special education teachers and aides.

Demma's lawsuit isn't the first against PPS over alleged abuse of aides and teachers.

In late 2018, eight educational assistants filed suit against the district, alleging abuse by special needs students. Around the same time, a teacher in Washington County filed suit against the Beaverton School District for similar claims.

Other lawsuits have been filed by teachers accusing the district of not allocating proper resources to special education students.

The latest complaint alleges the Portland district didn't accurately classify the severity of students' conditions and behavior and didn't provide proper tools or educational materials to teachers and aides.

"Plaintiff soon learned that the students in the classroom were high needs students with aggressive violent outbursts, many of whom were supposed to have one-on-one support but did not get that support met by defendant PPS," Demma's lawsuit claims.

The teacher also claims such students "never received any curriculum instruction," and instead were "passed from year to year without any evaluations as to their educational level or learning abilities."

The district declined to comment on the specific allegations outlined in the complaint, but released this statement:

"As a district, we are committed to providing appropriate and excellent educational opportunities to all students, including those who qualify for special education services. While we cannot comment on the specifics of this case because it is pending litigation, we can say that we work hard to ensure a safe and welcoming teaching and learning environment for our students and our educators."

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