WASHINGTON – High-profile killings of teachers in the past several years have prompted the nation's largest teachers' union to offer a $150,000 benefit for the families of members slain on the job at school.
The National Education Association has offered life insurance to members since the 1980s, but the new "unlawful homicide" benefit was approved only this year. It will be announced to the union's 2.6 million members in a September newsletter.
Under the benefit, families of slain teachers, aides and other NEA member employees are eligible to collect three times as much as if the worker were killed accidentally.
Randy Martin, who handles risk management for NEA Member Benefits, said the new coverage was not the result of any single incident. "It was just the knowledge that these incidents were occurring," Martin said.
"I think it's very good that we're doing this," said Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association. "I think that it's sad that we need to do it."
The benefit is free to NEA members.
Jamie Horwitz, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers union, said its members have not requested such a benefit, but the AFT's benefits historically have mirrored those offered by the NEA. Horwitz said the union probably would consider the homicide benefit.
While recent high-profile school shootings have focused media attention on school violence, few teachers or staff have been slain on the job over the past decade.
According to the National School Safety Center, which keeps statistics on school violence for the federal government, 29 school staff members -- teachers, administrators, custodians, nurses, school police officers -- have died violently at work since 1992.
Teacher Dave Sanders was among 13 victims of two student gunmen, who killed themselves, in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Most recently, Lake Worth, Fla., teacher Barry Grunow was shot in the head by a student he had sent home earlier on the last day of school in 2000.
The 14-year-old boy convicted in the killing faces 25 years to life in prison in his sentencing, scheduled Thursday.
"Obviously one death is one too many, and I don't want to minimize the importance of those, but violent deaths as a whole are a small, small percentage of overall school violence," said Ken Trump, an Ohio school safety consultant. He said teachers are much more likely to be assaulted at work.
Johnson said school violence has become "sort of a sign of the times."
"It's a sad reality that there is this random violence in the public schools," he said. "I'm glad the NEA is doing it. I hope it won't be used very often, but I'm glad it's there for the families of teachers who will be attacked and killed."