Teen admits attack that left teacher with a broken neck

A 15-year-old boy with a history of disciplinary problems - including a previous attack on a teacher - admitted yesterday that he assaulted a Germantown High School teacher last month, breaking the teacher's neck.

James Footman, the younger of two teens charged with confronting algebra teacher Frank Burd over the use of an iPod during class, admitted his involvement yesterday in Philadelphia Family Court.

Frank Burd's neck was broken when two students attacked.

Judge Richard J. Gordon, who characterized the attack as "brutal," scheduled sentencing for April 3 after Footman undergoes psychological examinations. Footman could be confined in youth centers until he turns 21. He was represented by a public defender.

The judge also scheduled an April 5 trial for Donte Boykin, 17, whose use of the iPod in class triggered the Feb. 23 attack.

The attack was witnessed by 20 students, said Leslie Gomez, assistant district attorney.

Burd, 60, whose head is immobilized in a halo device while two cracked bones in his neck heal, is confined to a rehabilitation hospital for two more weeks, Gomez said. Though Burd is not in danger of paralysis, "he is in excruciating pain as a result of this injury," she said.

Footman, a ninth grader, had been dismissed from Roosevelt Middle School after assaulting a teacher, Gomez said, and he was to be expelled from Germantown High School. Footman had been absent 45 days this year and been suspended 11 times for infractions that included activating a fire alarm, cursing, fighting, making noise, and threatening other students. He was getting Ds and Fs in all his courses.

"This young man has been through the juvenile court system," Gordon said.

The events began after Burd relieved Boykin, an 11th-grade student, of his electronic music player during class. Afterward, Boykin followed Burd down the hall and tripped or pushed him, Gomez said.

Burd fell toward Footman, who was cutting classes at the time and did not know Boykin. "The 15-year-old took it upon himself to punch the teacher," Gomez said. "He got a chance to take a freebie."

Footman struck Burd one to three times, Gomez said, causing Burd to fall and strike his head against a locker.

Though Boykin's actions did not directly cause Burd's neck injury, Gomez said, "you can't separate the chain of events." She said Boykin had one previous suspension.

Both were charged with aggravated assault and conspiracy.

Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or amaykuth@phillynews.com.