Student’s assault on Renton teacher raises district safety concerns

Video shows violent attack in hallway; 12-year-old girl had prior criminal history.

On March 30, a 12-year-old girl at Dimmitt Middle School attacked Stephanie Hartung, a seventh-grade teacher in the Renton School District.

In the approximately 20 seconds of violence, the girl struck Hartung with her hands and fists no less than seven times, pulled her to the ground, then beat and kicked and stomped her. Multiple students rushed out of Hartung’s classroom and one struggled to stop the attack.

The attack left Hartung hospitalized with a severe laceration on the right side of her face, a concussion, a black eye, substantial facial swelling, bruising and scratches, and chunks of hair pulled out.

She continues to experience pain from the one-inch laceration and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder — nightmares and flashbacks, anxiety, issues with concentration and memory, and hyperawareness, Hartung stated in an email.

“The teacher was released and went home in good spirits, resting and recovering with family,” stated Randy Matheson, executive director of community relations for the Renton School District, in an email.

Safety plan

On Feb. 28, the same 12-year-old girl followed an elderly woman from a bus into a business in Tukwila, assaulted and robbed her, then fled the scene. The Tukwila Police Department detained her at a bus stop in the area, according to records.

On March 13, the girl followed a second elderly woman out of a business in Tukwila, knocked her down and assaulted her. Tukwila police arrested her a second time, according to records.

On March 30, the girl started her first day of class with Hartung at Dimmitt Middle School. Hartung said no one informed her of the girl’s prior criminal history.

“I was told her issues at school were all toward students, not adults,” Hartung said in an email.

Hartung received a four-item safety plan from Dimmitt Middle School administrators for the girl. The plan included requirements for an escort to accompany her leaving class and from period to period, as well as a staff tracking sheet and another condition: “If for any reason she is not following her plan or being safe in your space, contact the office. We will intervene and place [her] in [detention] or send [her] home,” the fourth item on the safety plan read.

On March 30, Hartung’s class worked on a writing and thought exercise on the difference between wants and needs in terms of bills.

“She started saying she wants to kill herself and she wants to get all the knives and guns,” Hartung said in an initial interview with the King County Sheriff’s Office regarding the assault.

Hartung called for a hallway conference per school procedures, according to an affidavit of probable cause. An administrator arrived to meet in the hallway outside the classroom with the girl.

“It was a safety concern, so I called for a hallway conference and somebody responded. They talked to her. She said she had her self-control back [and] she was ready to come back into class,” Hartung said in the sheriff’s office interview.

The girl headed back into class after the hallway conference. As Hartung recapped the conference with the responding administrator outside the classroom, an argument between a girl and another student started in the classroom.

The girl lifted a chair “like she was going to throw it at the other student,” and Hartung stepped between the two, according to the sheriff’s office interview. The girl threatened to hit Hartung, who asked the girl not to hit her and to step outside with her.

The girl struck her first blows on the teacher after Hartung opened the door to shout for help.

Video footage of the incident shows no administrative presence when the assault started. Hartung verbally confirmed to King County deputies the lack of adult witnesses to the assault, according to sheriff’s office documents.

Fighting to hold the girl back, a seventh-grade female student forced herself between the girl and the teacher, pushing the girl against a wall and restricting the girl’s hands.

After stomping on Hartung’s face and kicking her twice as the second student struggled against her, the girl walked away from the scene.

Communications

Julianna Dauble, president of the Renton Education Association union, said she reached out to Renton School District Superintendent Damien Pattenaude in the weeks after the assault and encouraged him to directly contact Hartung to show his concern. She said Pattenaude never contacted Hartung.

There were also issues with the way the incident was reported to the public.

“Dimmitt Middle School Staff [and Families]: We had an incident at school this morning between a student and teacher that involved calling 911 for medical support for an abrasion,” Matheson emailed staff and families on March 30. “School is safe and remains on regular schedule.”

Dauble said the characterization of Hartung’s injuries as “abrasions” troubled union members.

“I think the intent here behind the district’s actions in downplaying this and minimizing it is so that people feel safe,” Dauble said. “We can’t prevent this from happening again, if we’re hiding the truth.”

Matheson issued an apology to staff the next day for his first email for underrepresenting the assault.

“My goal was to convey that there were no weapons on campus, that students were not in danger, and that school would continue on normal schedule,” Matheson stated in the email. “In hindsight, the description clearly did not represent the situation or injury, and I sincerely apologize for that portrayal.”

Dauble said she’s not aware that families received Matheson’s corrections and apology email.

“To our knowledge, a correction of the record was not sent to families because if it did go out, we were not included on it,” Dauble said in an email.

Matheson provided a statement to the Renton Reporter regarding the incident.

“School leadership acted quickly, securing classrooms, and caring for the teacher,” stated Matheson.

Unincorporated King County

“Teaching has become an increasingly dangerous occupation,” said Mary Grab, mother of Stephanie Hartung. “Far too often, teachers find themselves put in the position of acting as the first line of defense.”

From the first day of the 2022-2023 school year, Dimmitt Middle School — located in Bryn Mawr Skyway in unincorporated King County — has faced student disciplinary and behavioral challenges, Dauble said.

Leadership, building representatives, Dauble and the union executive board penned a letter to the district outlining disciplinary challenges and the need for a disciplinary support plan, accountability and communication at the school.

Subsequently, Artise Burton, former principal of Dimmitt Middle School, resigned in the middle of the school year and administrators stepped in to support his absence.

“Everybody was just putting out fires just running after kids,” Dauble said. “Schools are just expected to magically fix these issues that kids bring to school, and we can’t in the time that we have with the limited resources we have.”

The U.S. Census Bureau reported an average household income of $77,188 in Bryn Mawr-Skyway from 2017 to 2021 — $7,186 less than the average income of a household within the city limits of Renton.

From 2017 to 2021, Bryn Mawr-Skyway’s poverty rate of 13.2% was higher than Renton’s poverty rate of 7.9%.

“Until everyone in our community has access to robust health care, until affordable and nutritious food options are available in every neighborhood, and until we can assure secure housing for all, public schools will struggle to meet student needs when they arrive in our classrooms,” Dauble said in an email. “Renton is no worse than other school districts.”

The Renton School District hired the district’s first two school social workers in the 2021-2022 school year after the Renton Education Association pushed for social workers in open contract negotiations, Dauble said.

The Renton School District’s two social workers serve the district’s population of approximately 15,500 pre-K through 12th grade students.

“We do not have enough trained staff to know how to identify a student’s needs in the first place [and] how to write a safety plan in collaboration,” Dauble said. “There wasn’t awareness for what risk [the student] was bringing because … the state [is] not funding mental health care providers in our schools.”

Changes

“We all need more hope that things will get better. What happened to Ms. Hartung, tragic as it was, could be a step toward a more sustainable future for Renton students and our community because of her courage, strength and compassion,” Dauble said.

Hartung said she will start teaching again at Dimmitt Middle School at the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

“Dimmitt has the most amazing students and a collaborative, creative, and supportive staff, and even though I experienced an extremely traumatic event there, I really can’t imagine being an educator in another building,” Hartung said. “I love my job and love working with middle schoolers and have worked hard to be the best educator I can, earning a master’s degree and National Board Certification.”

For the 2023-24 school year, Tracey Tymczyszyn will serve as Dimmitt Middle School’s new principal, arriving from her position as principal at Hazelwood Elementary.

Law enforcement booked the 12-year-old girl into the King County Children and Family Justice Center on a charge of assault in the third degree for the March 30 incident at Dimmitt Middle School. Prosecutors on the girl’s case hope to work out a plea deal for the girl to serve time in treatment-oriented juvenile rehabilitation instead of at the Children and Family Justice Center.

Asked about whether the district provided any recourse to Hartung and safety policies to protect staff, Matheson responded:

“The staff member took ample time to take care of herself before deciding to return to school.”


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