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Education Reporter

STW Student Working as Jailer Hits Inmate
MUSKOGEE COUNTY, OK - Newspapers in this Oklahoma community reported last October that an 18-year-old high school student hired to work as a jailer under the state's School-to-Work (STW) program allegedly struck a 39-year-old female inmate with his fist. The untrained young man was apparently unable to handle the volatile situations that arise in such settings. Perhaps in anticipation of litigation, local District Attorney John David Luton admitted: "Having anybody who works without training does subject the county to lawsuits."

The issue of employer liability has dogged the STW system. Student workers placed in harm's way have lost limbs (see Education Reporter, February 2000) and created a host of potential legal problems for the businesses that employ them. The Oklahoma Department of Career Technology (formerly Vo-Tech), which wrote the state's STW plan (see STW in Oklahoma), has produced "How-To" books for STW work sites explaining how to "protect students from injury and employers and schools from lawsuits and compensation claims." These books also show prospective STW "partners" how to "keep liability fears and insurance costs from becoming a barrier to employment involvement." Critics wonder how many employers of students actually read the books. They contend that, if employers do read them, they'll no longer want to participate in STW.

Linda Murphy, former Deputy Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Labor, who also served on the state's short-lived STW Council in 1996, says the new "reform" is actually a step backward for many students, especially in situations where they are working in dangerous and dreary surroundings such as jails. "The idea of putting your child into a jail setting is certainly not desirable to most parents," she asserts. "All adults involved in this decision, including the school officials and parents - not only the sheriff - should be questioned in the case. How did so many adults approve this ludicrous idea?"

As Mrs. Murphy points out, common sense makes one ask if this is the beginning of a new era where more adults will be making irrational decisions to place students in dangerous work situations, thus putting everyone involved at risk. "Fully developed STW systems have high school, middle school and even elementary school students giving up class time for work time," she contends.

"Maybe the thought of a teenage jailer - a high school student in an STW program - resorting to physical violence while trying to do his job instead of spending his school day improving his academics, will wake up those adults who jump on the 'STW for all students' bandwagon" she continues.

"Maybe students will think about their future prospects with a job training background rather than an education that would enable them to develop their full potential."

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