Thursday, November 22, 2012

Elementary teacher was abusive, parents say

Three comments on the story below:

Ken Platt · Works at Dept of The Navy

If there was really anything to this case then charges would have been filed and the teacher would have been name by now. Especially since this has been supposedly going on for 5 years.

Aaron Burgin [reporter]· Vista, California

Not necessarily, Ken. One of the points of the article is that the administrators haven't filed charges in cases of emotional abuse. So, no, charges might not have been filed even if there was anything to the case.

Maura Larkins

Here we have yet another reason why schools should conduct meaningful evaluations of teachers. The current system is a joke. Evaluations by principals are virtually useless because they are compromised by school politics. Many abusive teachers are protected by administrators and the teachers union. Outsiders should be coming in to schools and observing teachers, and the observations should be stepped up when the question of abuse arises, to protect both students and teachers.

Elementary teacher was abusive, parents say
Humiliation of kids should be reported beyond administrators, they contend
Aaron Burgin
Nov. 21, 2012

SAN DIEGO — For five years, a group of parents complained that one Hardy Elementary teacher’s behavior toward students went beyond discipline — they said it was abuse.

According to their children, the teacher would hurl books across the class or publicly humiliate kids who had body odor by spraying them with aerosol. The teacher would instruct classmates to “think bad thoughts” about students who misbehaved, forgot homework or did poorly on an assignment.

The parents complained to the College Area school principal and followed up with a written complaint to the district. Eventually they were told their complaints lacked merit.

Now, the parents are pressing for the San Diego Unified School District to take a stronger stance against emotional abuse — with steps including reporting accused teachers to law enforcement for investigation.

Although that might sound excessive for a teacher who never laid a hand on a student — and in fact, nonphysical abuse is a crime that’s rarely, if ever, prosecuted — state law and district policy call for just that response.

“The district administrators have turned their backs on our kids,” said Susan Hopps-Tatum, who has emerged as parent advocate for the district to better address cases of reported abuse by its employees. “Emotional abuse has as much of an effect on our children as physical abuse, and the district fails to recognize this.”

The state penal code includes emotional abuse in its definition of child abuse and requires teachers and administrators to report even suspected abuse to child welfare or the police.

According to the school district’s administrative code, “Examples of emotional abuse include such things as belittling, screaming, threats, blaming and sarcasm.”

School district and law enforcement officials would not comment on the specific complaints by the Hardy parents.

They did say the requirement for reporting emotional child abuse is not nearly as clear cut as the parents are reading it.

Area Superintendent David Lorden, who reviewed the Hardy complaints, told The Watchdog he believes the district has the right to conduct its own inquiry to determine if a case “rises to the level of abuse.”

“Until we prove otherwise, they are just allegations,” Lorden said. “It can’t be like, ‘I don’t like the way my teacher talked to my child.’”

That process — letting district officials conduct their own review and decide whether to involve other authorities— seems to be the prevailing practice.

Officials with the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, which would prosecute local emotional abuse cases, said it has never handled a straight emotional abuse case.

“When we do handle those cases, they are usually the underlying count of a sexual, spousal or physical abuse case,” said Gina Coburn, spokeswoman for Jan Goldsmith’s office. “There hasn’t been one tried by itself.”

Judith Neufeld-Hernandez, a substitute teacher who pulled her son out of San Diego schools in response to his complaints about the Hardy teacher, said her son would beg his parents on Sunday nights not to make him go to school on Mondays.

“He told me that being in her class was like being a gladiator: You don’t know whether you are going to the lion’s den or if it will be your classmate,” Neufeld-Hernandez said.

Hardy Principal Kathy Wolfe declined to comment. A reporter was not allowed to speak to the teacher involved in the complaint. The U-T is withholding the teacher’s name because the district deemed the complaint unsubstantiated.

School district officials said they do not track complaints against teachers. They said the language of the law gives the district latitude in responding.

“To some parents, if their kid gets screamed at by their teacher, they consider that abuse,” district spokeswoman Linda Zintz said. “If we were to report each of these complaints, law enforcement would be inundated.”v Rod Pacheco, the state assemblyman who sponsored the bill updating the state’s child abuse and mandated reporter laws, said school officials have a duty to report teacher behavior such as what was alleged at Hardy to authorities.

“You’re not entitled to do things like that; it’s not 1910 anymore,” Pacheco said. “It’s 2012. You just don’t get to treat kids that way.”

Pacheco, who handled several high-profile sexual abuse cases during his tenure as Riverside County’s district attorney, disagreed with school officials’ interpretation of the law.

“Clearly, they are not supposed to be evaluating the complaint,” Pacheco said. “If some child says, ‘Teacher X has abused me,’ it is not incumbent on them to decide if that is true. That is not the foundation of whether they report it.

“When they get a complaint they have a duty to report it, period. If it is false, the authorities will determine it is false.”...

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