Wednesday, June 3, 2015

'I can't do it any more'

Veteran teacher Joy Rich and her cat, Humphy. The 2005 assault by two disruptive students left her with a concussion and shattered teeth.
Veteran teacher Joy Rich and her cat, Humphy. The 2005 assault by two disruptive students left her with a concussion and shattered teeth.

Joy Rich used to get teary when she tried to explain the thrill she got standing in front of a classroom of children, knowing she was teaching them something new.

"There is no place in the world I would rather be," Rich, 64, said last week. "But I can't do it any more."

An attack by two sixth graders in her classroom at Ada Lewis Middle School in East Germantown nearly two years ago left the veteran teacher with a concussion and shattered front teeth.

Rich had taught for nearly 20 years - eight in Philadelphia - when she was assaulted March 31, 2005. It was her third year at Lewis, and she was well aware of the discipline problems at the school, including regular student fights and children running through the halls.

Earlier in the year, Rich had escaped injury when a girl in her class pushed her down. Another teaching veteran had resigned after being shoved down stairs. But Rich was not anticipating trouble when she spotted a student in the hallway who had been transferred from her room to another sixth-grade class a few months earlier.

She asked how he was doing and whether he was doing his homework now. She said he had replied: "I'm OK, Mrs. Rich."

When Rich reached her classroom, her students returned from a "special," such as gym or music, and began running around the room.

"I was trying to get them calmed down, and in comes this kid with his friend," she said.

The two began racing around the room, jumping up and bumping chests.

"I thought I would make light of it," Rich said. "I put my arms around them and said, 'OK, guys. Come on. I'm trying to get my class together.' And I walked them to the door."

Within moments, the two boys were back, and Rich again asked them to leave. Instead they resumed tearing around the room with her students.

"I said, 'OK, I'm going to call the police.' "

One student was in front of her and the other behind as Rich reached for the classroom phone to call security to have the two students removed.

The two students pushed her so hard she fell to the floor, the phone still in her hand.

"I did not feel hitting the floor," she said. "I went face-down. I was unconscious. I had a concussion. When I awakened, I was lying in a pool of blood, and there was a teacher standing over me."

Rich didn't break her nose, but six teeth were shattered, and paramedics rolled her out of the school on a gurney and took her to Albert Einstein Medical Center.

One of her sons, John D. Rich Jr., then an educational researcher in the school district, was called to the hospital.

"She had bruises all over her face," John Rich, 38, said. "Her teeth were knocked out, and she was crying. A son doesn't want anybody to touch his mom."

Doctors picked pieces of teeth out of Rich's lower lip and stitched up her wounds. X-rays show that five tooth shards remain in her lower lip. She needed repeated dental visits to repair her teeth.

Lewis principal Woolworth Davis declined to comment. But a school district incident report supports Rich's account. Records that Rich has maintained and photographs taken that day document her injuries.

The day of the attack, police arrested the two sixth graders at Lewis. The boys were suspended for 10 days and charged with assault.

A month later, one of the boys - Marquette Cooper, 12 - was killed in his East Germantown home when a gun went off while he and another friend scuffled.

The other sixth grader was prosecuted in juvenile court, sent to a disciplinary school, placed on juvenile probation for three months, and ordered to pay Rich $100. Amy Guerin, a district spokeswoman, said the student, now 13, was no longer enrolled in the district.

After receiving workers' compensation for a year, Rich returned to Lewis last spring to fill in for other teachers. Because of lingering trauma from her attack, she is on leave this year and contemplating retiring.

"Everything is the teacher's fault," Rich said. "It wears you down. It makes you so angry."

The night she heard that students had broken math teacher Frank Burd's neck at Germantown High School, Rich went to bed and cried.

"I sobbed for him, and I sobbed for me," Rich said. "And I sobbed for what was taken away from us."


Contact staff writer Martha Woodall

at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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