By Jane Morris
In May 2022, I posted the terrible story of Kim Burns-Fisher, a middle school English teacher who was viciously attacked by a student, which caused permanent brain damage, amongst other serious injuries.
In case you don’t know the whole story, here is a quick summary: Burns-Fisher taught a student who had 14 prior violent incidents at school, including stabbing a teacher in the arm with a pencil and headbutting a teacher so hard it sent him to the hospital. He had once kicked Burns-Fisher so hard in the back that she urinated blood. She asked more than eight times to have this student removed from her class because he posed a significant safety threat to the entire class, but nothing changed. Then he attacked her so violently that it caused permanent brain damage. The student showed no remorse and was only curious if he had killed her while the principal asked, “What did you do to provoke him?” as she went in and out of consciousness on the floor.
Burns-Fisher sued the school board, claiming they ignored warning signs and failed to act before the student assaulted her in the classroom in 2018. She desperately needs financial help as workman’s comp almost covers her mortgage and the additional $680 a month she has to pay for health insurance. But food and utilities for her and her daughter have put her in substantial debt, and her injuries make it impossible to work. The county’s response to the lawsuit she filed against them was shocking. “By accepting a job with the district, staff members assume risks associated with working in a school.” This is a very callous response, but it is indicative of how our country views teachers.
This sounds like a case that would be pretty easy to win for most people. When they hear of an injury like this sustained in a school building, they tend to think it will be easy for the teacher to prove that the school system was at fault, and they will collect a decent amount of damages from the district.
Court Sides with Principal
Unfortunately, on January 13, 2023, the court sided with the principal. The ruling acknowledges that “There is no dispute that the student was known to have been violent on prior occasions.” Yet the court claims that Burns-Fisher “failed to sufficiently allege that the principal violated her constitutional rights.” Therefore the principal “is entitled to qualified immunity.” Burns-Fisher argued that Pender County Board of Education policy requires a second teacher to be in the class because of a large number of special-education students, and the principal frequently allowed the teaching of inclusion classes without the required second teacher present.
On the day of the attack, the principal, who is now retired, “knew that she was the only teacher in her classroom but did not send a second teacher.” Burns-Fisher argued that the principal “violated her ‘constitutional liberty interest in bodily integrity’ by ‘establishing a state-created danger.’”
The judge said that Burns-Fisher “fails to point to any action which created the danger that resulted in her injuries. At most, (there are) acts or omissions that suggest (the principal) knew that the student posed a risk, but nevertheless failed to prevent the student from attacking the teacher.” Perhaps the most shocking comment made by Judge Thacker is that Burns-Fisher, “has not demonstrated that it was clearly established at the time of the incident that she had a constitutional right to be protected from a student who was known to have a violent history.” And that statement pretty much sums up how the U.S. views teachers: not worth protecting.
Just a few weeks ago, 1st-grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot in the chest by a 6-year-old student. She had begged for help with this student multiple times, as he made threats such as wanting “to light a teacher on fire and watch her die.” Administrators literally told her “to drop the matter.”
You can read an entire statement made anonymously by a colleague of Zwerner that confirms she begged for help here. Here is a roundup of very alarming cases of violent and destructive behavior by young students around the country that received little to no consequences. I also published a real resignation letter from a teacher who sustained severe permanent injuries and received no help. And here is an article I wrote after doing extensive research on some of the most deadly school shootings of all time that shows multiple teachers begged for help with the students who eventually became violent mass murderers.
Once Again, Listen to the Teachers!
After all of the issues in education, I have read about, written about, and listened to teachers talk about, this is the number one problem in our schools today: no one listens to teachers’ pleas for help concerning student behavior. Students shooting dozens of others didn’t do it. A 6-year-old shooting his teacher hasn’t seemed to have changed anything. What will it take?
If you would like to donate to help Kim Burns-Fisher pay her attorney’s fees and help send her daughter to college, you can donate to her GoFundMe page or her Venmo page here.
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself, but she is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. She has a loving family and cares about making people laugh more than anything else.
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Jane, I keep wondering where the horror is related to these violent attacks and the thousands that occur on a daily basis in classrooms across the country. We did not assume a risk of violent attacks by taking jobs in the classroom, we assumed our places of work were there to keep the other students and staff safe. I think we need a major change in policy in this country. We need legislation to hold people accountable. Maybe all of us should go on 504s or IEPs so we can get at least some level of protection.
Why doesn’t your article name any of the people responsible over this situation? Justice has not been served.
This is outrageous, my daughter is a teacher and I am worried about her every day she goes to work. This can be true for a country who spend billions for many other countries in need yet can not help it’s own people she must sue them again
QUIT!!! Use your savings, buy a camper van or tiny home on wheels, QUIT and go see the world!! You can teach or do something else remotely from your computer. I tell everyone I know DO NOT GO INTO TEACHING unless you teach college. I quit HS because of violence towards me from my peers. I now have a fake tattoo of the Hells Angels on my arm that should I need, I show students. I then pull up info & photos of the Hell’s Angels for a Social Studies link to my curriculum on the Smartboard, show the class, these are some of my “family members.” It’s actually true, but a really distant cousin. I don’t say have to say anything more, they all tell each other to “stay away from Ms. X.” I make it educational, I carry a printed lesson plan with full justifications approved by the National Board. There’s a worksheet on the Angels, I grade it as a close reading assignment and return it. We have to use the tools we have at hand to defend ourselves. Too bad teaching in the USA has never been valued. But what do you expect from a society that wants cogs turning wheels, not actually THINKING. THANKS 1%!!!When we start free-thinking, o boy will we be empowered!!!
I challenge anyone to be in a 25 by 40 foot space with 25-30+ personalities and engage each and every one of them to accomplish a common goal 180 times in a row. There is not a human in the world that can accomplish that alone. But teachers are expected to do that each and every day, and it seems this judge thinks it’s possible. I wonder how he’d fair without bailiffs and clerks. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have order in the court.
I don’t understand how this happens: is there no reference to the actions of the child? Regardless of any other factors, surely physical safety prioritises anything else? What would have been the response of state / federal authorities (sorry, am in the UK) if this happened in a public place away from school? This poor women has lost her health and career as a result of an incident at work by virtue of someone else’s actions, so surely she should be entitled to some kind of state or Government financial security.