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St. Paul Teacher Says District Failed To Protect Him From Violence

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- St. Paul Public Schools is facing a possible lawsuit over school safety.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Central High School teacher explained why he holds the school district accountable after he was severely injured breaking up a fight between students.

Science teacher John Ekblad, 55, and his attorneys described the issue as a "physical violence problem towards teachers" by students, and the district's reluctance to do anything about it.

Ekblad was repeatedly choked and punched, and slammed onto a table by a Central football player. After he was hospitalized, doctors determined Ekblad had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

During a talk with reporters Tuesday, he described how he's still struggling, but ready to take on a legal battle.

"I've got a 24/7 headache," Ekblad said. "I have numbness in my right arm. I have numbness down my right leg to the top of my foot."

He also says he suffers from hearing loss, memory loss and vision problems.

Ekblad says he is planning to sue St. Paul Public Schools because the district has long known it has a school violence problem, but failed to effectively address it.

"I know from my colleagues, teachers, professional staff, and students that they are afraid that what happened to me could happen to them as well," Ekblad said.

Recent incidents at St. Paul schools led Superintendent Valeria Silva to hold a news conference about a loaded gun found at Harding High School, as well as fights at Como and Humboldt High School this fall.

"Too many teachers are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal," said Philip Villaume, an attorney representing Ekblad. "The law is clear. School districts can be held liable for sudden, foreseeable conduct, which could have been prevented by exercising ordinary, reasonable care."

The school district issued a statement, saying it cannot comment about lawsuits, but that the district "is extremely saddened by this situation...and does not and will not tolerate violence against anyone in the district.""

"Our discipline policies have always specified severe consequences for students who jeopardize the safety of others and we do not shy away from enforcing these policies," the statement said.

Ekblad's attorneys say they're willing to meet with district administrators and a mediator before proceeding with the lawsuit.

The Ramsey County Attorney's Office says it has dealt with 27 cases involving school assaults so far this year, half of them in St. Paul.

As for the student who assaulted Ekblad, he was charged with felony assault.

Fon'Tae O'Bannon, 16, pleaded guilty to those charges this past Friday, and is now out of the Ramsey County juvenile detention center and at home with his family.

He is not allowed to return to Central High School.

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