The North Dakota Education Fact-Finding Commission, which is tasked with reconciling teacher contract negotiations across the state, has recommended Bismarck Public Schools create a new committee to discuss teacher safety concerns.
The commission issued a report shortly after midnight Wednesday following a public impasse hearing last week, when several teachers testified about the violence they've encountered in their classrooms. Some shared stories of chairs and desks being thrown and one teacher had been stabbed with scissors.
In response to public testimony and the Bismarck Education Association's proposal to add safe workplace language into teacher contracts, the commission recommended the district form a safety and health committee to look into these incidents.
BPS Superintendent Tamara Uselman conceded last week that there have been "increasing student behaviors" in recent years, including 10 occasions this past school year when classroom instructors and staff needed medical attention.
The safety and health committee would be composed of members appointed by the teachers union and the district.
"A safety and health committee ... would allow the district a more positive process for improvement and communication than placing language in a negotiated agreement," the report said. "There is no language that the commission could recommend for the negotiated agreement that would solve the safety issues that were communicated at the hearing."
The commission also recommended the district consider working with those in the community, including hosting anger management classes for children and and adults, parenting classes and gathering input from mental health professionals and law enforcement.
BEA head negotiator Toni Gumeringer said Wednesday she was pleased to see the commission recommended forming a committee.
Other districts in the state have also cited workplace safety concerns, including Fargo. The teachers union there requested safe workplace language be included in teacher negotiated agreements. The Education Fact-Finding Commission issued a report July 19 in Fargo, which recommended additional staff training for teachers, rather than the formation of a committee.
"We have training, and I don’t think that was ever our issue,” Gumeringer said. “What we really wanted was that line of communication between teachers and administration to be more open."
Uselman said in an email Wednesday that she was supportive of a new safety and health committee, noting that the district and each school building already have safety committees in place.
"However, if we have staff who don't feel like they're in the loop or in the know, and having a district committee would help them offer input, I'd certainly support that idea," she said.
In addition to establishing a safety and health committee, the commission recommended teachers receive salary increases for the upcoming school year.
Both sides plan to meet Aug. 30 to discuss the recommendations. Under state law, they have 20 days to reach an agreement.