Apologies as anger lives on

Two students who assaulted teacher Frank Burd spoke to him in an emotional hearing. "I don't understand this," he said to them.

Posted: April 27, 2007

As Frank Burd sat silently yesterday morning in the front row of juvenile court, the two teenage boys who assaulted him in the hallway of Germantown High School and broke his neck two months ago took turns standing up to apologize.

Donte Boykin, 18, a senior in Burd's algebra class who pushed his teacher for confiscating an iPod, went first. The young man, who had already been accepted to college, wore a navy shirt and orange work pants.

"I would like to say I apologize to Mr. Burd," he said. Later, he asked the judge if he could shake Burd's hand. The judge left it up to Burd, who slowly rose from his seat. Boykin leaned toward Burd and the two hugged.

"He said, 'I'm sorry,' " Burd, 60, whose neck is still held in a brace, recounted later. "I said, 'I know.' "

Later, it was James Footman's turn. The 15-year-old didn't even know Burd, but he had punched him three times in the face after Boykin's shove pushed Burd into him. "I apologize for what I did to you. I would like to shake your hand," Footman said as he offered his hand to Burd.

While the expressions of regret helped, they didn't erase Burd's anger, or the fears he has for the first time in his life or his utter sense of bewilderment.

"I didn't ask to be in this situation," Burd told Judge Kevin Dougherty. "I am very angry, and I am upset."

The apologies came during an emotional sentencing hearing that culminated with the two teens' being ordered to long stints in detention facilities for their parts in the assault that left Burd with five fractured vertebrae in his neck and a brain injury.

The severity of Burd's injuries from the Feb. 23 attack heightened concern and raised public awareness about violence against teachers in the city's schools.

Boykin, a senior, who pleaded guilty three weeks ago to a single charge of aggravated assault, admitted following Burd into the hallway and pushing him twice after Burd confiscated his iPod in algebra class.

Boykin's actions caused Burd to fall into Footman, who happened to be in the hallway because he was cutting class.

Footman, who knew neither Burd nor Boykin, pleaded guilty last month to aggravated assault, conspiracy and related charges for punching Burd in the face three times.

Burd fell face-first onto the hallway floor.

Yesterday, Burd said his doctors had told him he was extremely lucky.

"I'm not paralyzed, and I'm not dead," he said. "I'm really going to be OK."

But Burd struggled to retain his composure as he showed photographs of his family to Boykin and Footman so they could see that he had a life outside Germantown High School. And tears welled up as he described how upset he was when he thought that his two young grandchildren might have grown up without knowing him.

He recounted his injuries and said he still didn't understand why he had been attacked.

"I don't understand this," Burd said to both students.

"I don't know you," Burd told Footman, who wore a beige shirt and pants. "I didn't do anything to you."

And while William Spalding, Boykin's defense attorney, said his client was less culpable because he had no idea that Footman was going to punch the teacher, Burd said if Boykin had not pushed him, he wouldn't have been injured at all.

When Dougherty asked Boykin why he pursued and pushed Burd, the teen said: "I acted like a child with a temper tantrum. . . . I pushed him because I was mad because he took my iPod."

Later, as Dougherty, administrative judge of Family Court, prepared to impose sentence, he said: "Have we now regressed to where it's now become sport to hurt our teachers? Have we regressed where our school system and the educational structure in Philadelphia has disintegrated to the level that incarceration is next to graduation?"

Dougherty sternly told Footman and Boykin that he now would be in control of them for up to four years or until they turned 21, and that he would closely monitor their behavior.

"You must understand," Dougherty said, "you're walking into my world, and you will do what I say."

He ordered ninth grader Footman, who turned 15 the day after the attack, to a stay of indeterminate length at one of the state's secure youth detention centers.

Dougherty said that the state center was the most secure type of facility available and would provide Footman with the remedial education, structure, and intensive emotional and behavioral support that court, school and psychological records indicate Footman needs. Records show that Footman, who was sent to a discipline school after assaulting an administrator at Roosevelt Middle School in 2004, has had problems with anger and dealing with authority figures since he was 5.

Boykin, who had been planning to attend college in the fall, was sent to George Junior Republic, in Grove City in Western Pennsylvania, a private residential juvenile facility where he will be able to complete his high school education.

Dougherty said neither teen would be permitted to have home visits without his approval.

Angel Flores, assistant district attorney, said outside the court that the sentences were appropriate.

"What the judge did needed to take place," he said. "He needed to send a message to both Mr. Boykin and Mr. Footman that their actions would not be acceptable . . . and if you listened to his words, that this type of activity and nonsense can no longer be accepted in our schools."

Flores said the sentences are typically reviewed every four to six months to determine whether the youths are making progress.

"If I had to guess, they will be there for an extended period of time," he said.

Footman's relatives declined to comment.

Boykin's father, Lloyd Jerome Boykin Jr., said he was relieved his son was getting out of the Youth Study Center for a better place.

"This is something new for him," said Boykin, a former school district police officer, as he fought back tears. "It's kind of hard for me, too. He'll be able to continue and get ready for college and hopefully turn this around."

He said his family had told Burd they were praying for him and his family.

Afterward, Burd said that the handshakes and hug had been difficult.

"That was very tough," he said. "That was really very tough. I don't want to say I did want to do it. I don't want to say I didn't want to do it. I didn't know what I wanted. . . . My body just kind of got up out of the chair."

He added: "I know Donte, and I couldn't not do what I did. I don't feel the same closeness to Footman. He seems to be in a different space, a different place. I can't see who he is."

Burd said he was relieved he had not been the one to decide what happened to Boykin and Footman.

"I always choose on the side of leniency - always," Burd said. "And that's not always the right choice. We give - whether it's our children or our students - too many breaks. And one of the things I do tell my students is there's got to be consequences."

He said many people could not understand why he wanted to attend the hearing.

"I am so relieved it is over," he said. "Some people thought, 'What's the point? It's not necessary.' But I think I needed this, the way you just need to move on with your life. You need some kind of closure. You need to know what's going to happen. And I'm really glad I came."


 

For stories on Frank Burd and violence against teachers, go to


Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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