Attacked by a Student

Just 10 years ago, the student who beat Carrie Brison and punched Amy Rosenau might have been placed in a regional center setting.

Instead, he found his way to Lincoln High School last February. By October he had been involved in three assaults on teachers, the last of which sent Brison and Rosenau to the ER by ambulance.

Both believe more paraprofessionals and teachers in special education classrooms, and more mental health care for students in general, could cut the number of outbursts educators encounter.

In some cases student placement might be in error.  “The type of student who attacked me more than likely would have been placed in a regional center type setting in the past, even just 10 years ago.  And he probably would be very successful there. It’s very structured, very routine,” she said.

Brison would know. She manages a hefty case load that includes clients in the Lincoln Regional Center.  She completed student teaching for her behavior endorsement at the Lincoln Regional Center when Morton School was still part of the programming at the Regional Center. She is a former MANDT (de-escalation/restraint) trainer for LPS and is MANDT-certified. She previously taught in the Behavior Core Program and now has 20 years with LPS.

‘I Felt My Neck Pop’ 

In October, Brison was in her classroom working with the student on IEP-related coursework when, unprovoked, the student came after her.  The call-for-help button in her room was unreachable from where the student had her pinned after pulling her down by her hair. She was being punched in the base of the head and neck repeatedly. She yelled for help, hoping someone would come to her aid.

Her cries were answered by Rosenau who quickly hit the call button.  At that point, the student had Brison by her ponytail and “was just pounding her,” said Rosenau.

The first call button was either not heard or was not pushed hard enough. The button was pushed several more times as both teachers called out again for help. 

In the meantime, the student threw a board at Brison and lifted a chair into the air in an attempt to strike Brison.  They both grabbed the chair and managed to get it to the floor.  The student proceeded to push both teachers and the chair toward the back of the classroom where they became entangled and fell to the floor.  The intercom came on and a staff member asked if they needed help, both teachers screamed “YES!” The student then began punching Brison again.  

“I yelled at him to stop, and he came at me. He punched me in the jaw. I felt my neck pop and everything kind of went black for a little bit,” said Rosenau.

Shortly after that, a school resource officer entered the room, and the student just stopped.

“He later told the officer he was hitting me with all his force,” said Brison. “He made it abundantly clear that had he had knives, he would have stabbed me to death and I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

Said Rosenau: “That tells me that he is cognitively aware of what he is doing, and the repercussions of what he is doing.”

The Trauma is ‘Outrageous’

School officials summoned an ambulance, and Brison and Rosenau were taken to a hospital, treated and released. Both are still in physical therapy and dealing with lifting restrictions. Even so, they each pushed to return to the classroom, taking just a couple of days off.

“These kids depend on us for dignity and safety, so we can’t have that many people gone,” said Rosenau. “They have to be taken to the bathroom and changed. They have to have their tube feedings at the nurse’s office. If there’s not enough people…”

They agree that more help is needed.  “Staffing is No. 1,” said Brison.

“We need more people, so many more resources,” said Rosenau.

Brison believes an immediate debriefing would have been a good idea. “I’m trained to work with individuals such as this student. I never want to touch a student in crisis, but this time, I was never given the opportunity to protect myself, or keep myself safe. It is an isolating, scary situation,” she said.

On a larger scale, she said such assaults need to be reported and measured in one statewide system that collectively looks at the data, perhaps giving the child a “trauma” designation in the computer system, alerting staff to a background of trauma.

“We get notices of a student having an IEP, why not trauma?” said Brison.  “The amount of trauma kids come to us with is outrageous.”

Broader support for mental health care would help.  The amount of trauma and safety situations we see on a daily basis is alarming, and funding and programming continues to be cut, said Brison.

“We’re providing clothes for these kids. We’re providing food, but we’re not providing a way to make it better,” said Brison. “It’s going to require money. It’s going to require training. It’s going to require time.  And it’s not going to go away.”