School shootings have prompted the nation's largest teachers' union to offer a special $150,000 benefit for teachers and other school employees slain at work.
While the National Education Assn. has offered life insurance to members since the 1980s, the new "unlawful homicide" benefit was only approved this year. It will be announced to the union's 2.6 million members in a September newsletter.
The payout for accidental death while on the job is $50,000.
Randy Martin, who handles risk management for NEA Member Benefits, said the new coverage was not the result of any single incident. "It was just the knowledge that these incidents were occurring," Martin said.
"I think it's very good that we're doing this," said Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Assn. "I think that it's sad that we need to do it."
The benefit is provided free to NEA members.
American Federation of Teachers spokesman Jamie Horwitz said its members have not requested such a benefit, but he added that the AFT's benefits historically have mirrored those offered by the NEA. Horwitz said the union would likely consider the homicide benefit.
While recent high-profile school shootings have focused media attention on school violence, few teachers or staff members have been slain while on the job over the last decade.
According to the National School Safety Center, which keeps statistics on school violence for the U.S. government, 29 school staff members--including teachers, administrators, custodians, nurses and school police officers--have been killed violently at work since 1992.
Teacher Dave Sanders was among the 13 victims in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Most recently, Lake Worth, Fla., teacher Barry Grunow was shot and killed by a student he had sent home earlier on the last day of school in 2000.
The 14-year-old boy convicted in the killing faces 25 years to life in prison in his sentencing, scheduled for today.
"Obviously one death is one too many, and I don't want to minimize the importance of those, but violent deaths as a whole are a small, small percentage of overall school violence," said Ken Trump, an Ohio school safety consultant. He said teachers are much more likely to be assaulted at work.
Johnson said school violence has become "sort of a sign of the times."
"It's a sad reality that there is this random violence in the public schools," he said. "I'm glad the NEA is doing it. I hope it won't be used very often, but I'm glad it's there for the families of teachers who will be attacked and killed."