Bill would study workplace safety

OSEA members delivered passionate testimony in favor of a bill that would study how to make work environments safer for staff working in special education and related services.

For years, OSEA has been drawing attention to the problem of school employees being injured by the students they serve. Several of those employees spoke before the Oregon Senate’s Committee on Human Services last week, urging support of Senate Bill (SB) 363.

“During my years, I have been hit, kicked, bit, slapped, spit on, my hair pulled, and have endured back, neck and shoulder trauma as well,” said Kathy Forbes, a Tillamook Chapter 28 member who has worked as a special education assistant for 20 years. “I didn’t know when I took this job that it would include all of this.”

Senate Committee on Human Services: testimony in support of Senate Bill 363– Monica McCanna (foreground) speaks; also pictured Soren Metzger and Kathy Forbes

Forbes emphasized the need for employee training to properly work with students with disabilities, and that insights about a particular student’s behavior should be shared with all employees working with that student, including educational assistants.

Monica McCanna, who works as a life skills paraprofessional and is a member of Harney County Chapter 75, reported similar experiences with one particular student that eventually led her to repeatedly request reassignment.

“The emotional and physical toll this has taken on me is immense,” McCanna said. “I still have nightmares. I also live with extreme guilt because after I left, the student hurt two other paraprofessionals so bad that they both have permanent shoulder damage.”

Teri Jones, a library assistant in Coos Bay Chapter 33, relayed the experience of a secretary in her elementary school. She said the secretary was injured by a student, but out of a sense of duty still takes on working with that person.

“What is the magic number of incidents before something else is done?” Jones asked.

Ma’Lena Wirth, an English language learner interpreter/translator in Baker Chapter 20, said frequent incidents in her district left educational employees feeling they did not have the resources needed to properly serve students while also keeping them and staff safe.

“We ask that the report include all of the resources necessary in order to provide the appropriate level of training for our staff, not just the level of staffing,” she added.

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