Clarence Notree barely had time to act when a gunman burst into the elementary school gym. As the bullets flew, the physical education teacher spread out his arms to shield the children and pushed them out a door to safety. He was shot in the wrist.
His school and community lauded Notree as a hero, but the Chicago Board of Education insisted he wasn't entitled to workers' compensation.They said saving the children's lives was not part of his job.
An arbitrator ruled in favor of Notree's $13,000 claim, but the board appealed. A ruling is expected next week.
"To sit there and listen to (the school board lawyer) say that it is not my responsibility as a teacher to protect these kids is just ridiculous," Notree said.
And shootings are fairly common near Woodson North Elementary School, said Notree, who later resigned and took a less dangerous job as a stadium manager after he saw two children in his program shot to death. The school is in an impoverished neighborhood on the city's South Side.
On Sept. 17, 1991, Notree was running basketball drills for about 30 children in the city's "Hot Shots" after-school program when he heard gunshots coming from behind him.
Without turning to see the gunman, Notree tried to get the children, some as young as 8, to safety. Notree finally made it through the door, with blood spurting from his wrist.
"Every one of those kids was running and being helped through that door, and it was Notree who, by being the last one, was shot," said his co-worker, Adrienne Fleming. "He was shielding them."
The gunman was never caught.
Notree lost 20 percent of the use of his right wrist and has trouble swinging a baseball bat and playing sports that require heavy wrist pressure.
School Principal William Taylor commended Notree for his bravery. The Board of Education did pay Notree $1,410 for sick leave as he recovered from his wound, and its health insurance program covered his medical bills.
However, the board rejected his compensation claim.
"Playground activity does not inherently contain a risk of being shot by some unknown assailant," the board declared in its appeal.
Board of Education spokeswoman Dawn Simmons declined to comment while the case was pending.
"I kind of feel betrayed," said Notree, a teacher for 19 years. "You kind of expect them to be behind you saying, `job well done,' rather than have them say you did something wrong."