Colleague's slaying will linger in teachers' minds

Juvenile DelinquencySocial IssuesDeathCrimeCrime, Law and JusticeAssault

The blackboard, the posters, the tight rows of desks filled with fresh young faces -- that's the image a teacher takes home every summer, and expects to see every fall.

It won't be the picture many take away today, the final day of work for many teachers before summer vacation. It's a day when instructors usually clean up their classrooms, enter their final grades and pack up textbooks.

Instead, many will be mourning a slain colleague while others quietly wonder whether any of those fresh young faces could turn on them.

Barry Grunow, 35, will be honored today in a memorial service in West Palm Beach after being shot to death Friday in his classroom at Lake Worth Middle School. The alleged assailant is a 13-year-old honors student named Nathaniel Brazill.

While few teachers say the shooting will change how they do their job, many concede it will still be on their minds when they return to classrooms in August.

"It makes me look at things a little differently," said Ramon Lenoci, a physical education teacher at Logger's Run Middle School in Boca Raton with 22 years experience.

"I'm still going to do my job the way I've always done it," Lenoci said. "I'm just going to take a closer look at each child that I have, that's in my classroom. Just be a little more careful."

He's also concerned about possible copycat shootings: "Unfortunately, it's going to continue to happen," he said.

Lenoci worked with Grunow when he began his teaching career at Logger's Run. Before Friday, he had planned on seeing his old colleague at a fellow teacher's retirement party this week. Instead, he will be attending today's memorial service.

Especially troubling to some teachers were the descriptions of Brazill. By all accounts, the alleged assailant isn't the troublemaker a teacher can always see coming. He's a good student, the type who many teachers depend upon.

Ursula Leon, a language facilitator who helps non-English speaking children at Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton, said she, too, will feel the weight of the classroom killing.

But she'll try to tuck it away when it comes to working with the students.

"It's scary, that's for sure," Leon said. "I'll have to go and be in the classroom and if I'm going to have this on my mind, then I'm not going to be able to do my job. I'm going to be on the look-out all the time."

Veronica Adams, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Boca Raton Middle, said she's still grappling with her emotions over the shooting.

"I don't know exactly what my thoughts are," she said. "It's definitely something I've thought a lot about."

But Adams, a teacher for 30 years, said she doesn't think she'll be afraid come August.

"This could happen in a grocery store, this could happen anywhere."

Others aren't so sure.

"That very easily could have been me," said Joel Duberstein, former Omni Middle School teacher who now works at Palm Beach Community College.

"I was a teacher who just stood right up to the kids," said Duberstein. "I just don't understand what would cause an honor student to do something like that. This is not what we would typify as a troubled student."

For others, the killing has only reinforced their decision to leave troubled public school classrooms. Blanche Alexander-McFadden, a former teacher for 32 years at Carver Middle School in Delray Beach, said she was glad she left last year.

"I said, 'Thank God.' I could see myself in a similar situation because we had to do that," she said, referring to disciplining students. "It's frightening to think, there by the grace of God could have been me."

Shana Gruskin can be reached at sgruskin@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6537.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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