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South High teacher injured breaking up students' fight

May 15, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS and LAURA ERNDE

gregs@herald-mail.com
laurae@herald-mail.com

A South Hagerstown High School history teacher was trying to break up a fight between two ninth-graders when they apparently turned on him Wednesday morning, Hagerstown City Police said.

John Michael Priest, 53, was at his home in Clear Spring on Wednesday evening after being treated at Washington County Hospital for chest and head injuries.

The two boys, ages 15 and 16, were charged with second-degree assault and disrupting school activities after the 9 a.m. incident, said Hagerstown City Police Sgt. Jim Hurd.

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The boys were arrested and released to their parents, Hurd said.

The two boys began arguing just before 9 a.m., Hurd said.

When Priest tried to break up the argument, the boys apparently turned on him, Hurd alleged.

Priest declined to comment on the details of the incident, but said he blacked out.

He said doctors told him to take it easy, get a doctor's checkup and stay off work until Monday.

Priest has been a teacher for more than 20 years, specializing in Civil War history. He has written or edited 11 books on the war. His students have helped him with his research.

The incident was the second in Hagerstown schools in the last three weeks.

A North Hagerstown High School teacher was charged with assault after he was accused of grabbing one student by the neck and tipping over a second student's desk while she was sitting in it, police said.

Dennis Garrett Laub, 51, of 3559 Turnberry Drive, Chambersburg, Pa., has been assigned to administrative duties since the April 28 incident, said Washington County Teachers Association President Claude Sasse.

Sasse said student discipline is becoming a big issue in schools and students are getting too many breaks.

"It's getting a little wild around here. That is absolutely appalling what happened at South High," Sasse said.

Full-time police officers have been stationed at the two high schools for the past year in an effort to speed up response time and promote safety.

The program is being paid for by a three-year federal grant of $425,000.

Attempts to reach South Hagerstown High School Principal Michael Shockey for comment Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.

School board President Bernadette Wagner said she heard that Priest was "inadvertently" injured while breaking up the fight.

Board members Roxanne Ober and Edward Forrest said they had not heard about the incident.

Forrest said he didn't know how to reach Shockey.

Ober said she would not release Shockey's phone number, but would pass along a request for comment to Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

Messages left at Morgan's home and on her cell phone Wednesday night were not returned.

School district spokeswoman Carol Mowen was on a retreat Wednesday and couldn't be reached.

Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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