School Spitting Match

Student aggression provokes a teacher beyond control. A short video shows the encounter that leads to disciplinary measures and a government response.

By Veronika Hribernik

A teacher and a student are screaming at each other – a “heated discussion” about the final grades, according to the principal of a Viennese trade school, HTL Ottakring. Suddenly the teacher spits, and the student then pushes him violently against the blackboard. Documented in a 20-second video posted on the internet on May 2, the incident has sparked a debate on school violence and how to deal with it.

Within a day the student was suspended and the teacher was re-assigned to a different class. The Ombudsman Board and the Ministry of Education are evaluating the circumstances and assessing school’s responsibility, with an independent commission to report within two weeks.  Disciplinary measures against the teacher, who is on medical leave, have yet to be defined, although the school has announced it will not renew his contract. The student will be subject of a “Disciplinary Conference,” while other classmates involved in the incident may also be held responsible and could face expulsions.

The teacher had had problems before, according to various media: He was reportedly unable to control the class and had used racial insults against students, while other videos show students harassing the teacher, an issue the principal’s office claimed to have known nothing about. One ex-teacher disputed this in an interview with the ORF, and faulted the school administration: “The principal did not step in” when he himself reported being bullied by one of his superiors years ago. “Several colleagues changed schools; my situation was certainly not unique.”  

Meanwhile, the debate is becoming increasingly political. Minister of Education Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) proposed so-called “timeout classes” and cooling-down rooms for violent students. These students should attend separate classes until they get back on track, Faßmann said.

The opposition parties aren’t convinced. The SPÖ Spokeswoman for Education, Sonja Hammerschmid, is calling for more efforts at prevention, while the NEOS demand a reporting office for cases of bullying.

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