Sunday, November 01, 2009

IA: Vindictive principal suspends girl over empty gun shells

An 11-year-old Des Moines girl was at home on suspension Tuesday for bringing a handful of empty shotgun shells to school last week. Jazmine Martin, a sixth-grader at Brody Middle School, picked up the shells as souvenirs during a family trip to a ranch in South Dakota, where the rounds were fired as part of a show. They were blanks. "I didn't think they were going to hurt anyone," Jazmine said. "I wanted to show them to my science teacher because he's into stuff like this."

She said she didn't have time to show her teacher, but she did show a couple of friends. This week, she was called into the office and suspended. Principal Randy Gordon said the shells were considered ammunition even though they were empty, and were therefore against school policy.

A copy of the school policy shows that it specifically bans "live ammunition or bullets" but makes no reference to empty shells or casings. However, the policy says it is not limited to the items specifically listed as being banned.

The girl's mother, Chenoa Martin, 39, said school officials were trying to make an example of her daughter — and overreacted. She said she will fight to have the offense removed from her daughter's record. "They could have handled it differently," she said. "I could have seen a detention, a conference with the parents ... but this was harsh."


Cleared British teacher calls for greater protection against allegations

The first teacher in Britain to take a lie detector test to try to clear her name after she was wrongly accused of assault last night called for greater protection against false allegations. Jane Watts, 52, claims her life was left in tatters after she was accused of hitting a five-year-old girl in her reception class. Police dismissed the allegation against her but she was still sacked from her job at a primary school in Chorley, near Preston, Lancs.

Mrs Watts, who has been forced to rent out her home and is now living in “exile” in Spain, still recalls her fear at being arrested and taken to a police station. “It was absolutely horrendous,” she said. “I was warned that I might be handcuffed and put in a cell. I was fingerprinted, had my DNA taken and photographed. “I had been on the senior management team and had an unblemished record. I was terrified.”

Mrs Watts spoke out after the Daily Telegraph revealed how Michael Becker, a special needs teacher, was convicted of assault by beating for daring to eject a disruptive pupil from his classroom. Mr Becker, 62, from Stutton, Suffolk, took action because the boy refused to stop telling racist jokes. He was fined and ordered to pay costs. An imminent disciplinary hearing is expected to confirm his dismissal after 32 years in the classroom.

The case comes as a poll by the the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found a quarter of school staff have been falsely accused by a pupil of wrongdoing while one in six has faced malicious allegations from a pupil's family. Half of those questioned said there had been at least one false allegation in their current school.

Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said false allegations were blighting teachers' lives. "You get allegations of inappropriate sexual contact, you get allegations that you have hit a child, you get allegations that you have been unreasonable in your behaviour to the child," she said. "It is a totally isolating experience," said Bousted, who added that many teachers never went back because they felt a cloud was hanging over them.

Mrs Watts, speaking from her new home in Cantabria, said teachers should learn that 'nobody is their friend.' “The Government should look at suspensions and at their procedures very, very carefully, and it needs to be somebody independent to look at them. “Children need to be protected, but so do the adults.”

Her 30-year career effectively came to a halt in September, 2007, when a youngster accused her of hitting her on the hand during a lesson at Duke Street Primary School. She spent £25,000 trying to clear her name, even going to the trouble of submitting herself to a polygraph examination. The test came back clear but the school said it was unreliable.

Mrs Watts, who maintained throughout that she had struck a desk rather than the child, was reinstated after an appeal. After declining an “invitation” to return to the school she applied for early retirement, but this was turned down. The stress continued to wear her down and she was eventually sacked for non-attendance in 2009. “I don’t know how I’ve survived,” she said. “Without the support of my family I would have lost it. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed and it took months for me to go into town. “At one point I almost lost my house. I spent all my life savings just to stay afloat and almost had to sell my house.” She added: “It finally seems like people are talking about the issue, and I won’t rest until I get changes made.”

Ken Cridland, Lancashire secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the human cost to teachers subjected to false allegations “cannot be underestimated”. He added: “This is a brutal system that wrecks the careers and home lives of innocent teachers. “There are some older children who are wise or unwise enough to attempt to get staff into trouble.”


Teachers need the law on their side

We need a politician with the guts to stand up for reasonable discipline in our schools, argues Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London

Let's be clear. I am not calling for the return of the cane. I do not want to bring back the great British thrashing. It seems amazing that in our lifetimes otherwise humane teachers would roll up their sleeves, flex the Malacca and – with or without a pervy Terry-Thomas glint in the eye – administer violent corporal punishment to the children they were supposed to be instructing.

My memory of an otherwise idyllic 1970s English prep school is that masters used virtually any weapon of discipline they could lay their hands on. There was the blackboard rubber, a heavy chalky object that teachers would hurl with great force if they saw you staring vacantly during maths. There was the ruler, which could be brought down so hard on the back of the hand that a friend of mine had a contusion that lasted for years. There was the jokari bat, for those who forgot their construe. There was the cricket bat for seriously argumentative types and also, I kid you not, the handle of a nine iron golf club. And then there was the cane. I remember being so enraged at being whacked for talking at the wrong moment that it has probably given me a lifelong distrust of authority.

So no, frankly, I do not want to turn the clock back to a school system that allowed regular beating of children by adults. But when I look at the state of our schools, and the misery and confusion of so many teachers, I wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Classrooms are often scenes of such anarchy that learning is impossible. Violence against teachers is continuing to rise, with physical assaults by children on adults up to 18,000 a year.

In a particularly nasty incident in February a music teacher was duffed up by a 14-year-old and suffered such badly broken teeth that he will never play the saxophone again. How could he have been so humiliated? Because he was just panic-stricken at the thought of offering any kind of physical restraint. "I thought of putting (the pupil) in an armlock," said the teacher, David Mishra, later, "but he was struggling, and if he had broken his arm I thought I would have been crucified."

I partly blame the parents, and the hysterical way they are allowed to rail at any teacher who tries to discipline their little brutes. A mum once came to see me at my MP surgery to complain about what she said was a breach of her son's human rights. I was all set to take up her cause until it became obvious that the breach in question involved an attempt to keep her son in detention for an hour – an entirely reasonable chastisement, it turned out, after her son had caused chaos on a school trip by jumping out of a bus. As the mother ranted on about her hatred of the school, her hatred of the teacher and the general conspiracy to deprive her son of his human rights, I am afraid that I saw red and told her that I was completely on the side of the school. I told her firmly that she would have to vote for another MP.

But far more than the parents, I blame an educational and legal system that is now routinely betraying teachers, preventing them from fulfilling their vocations, and depriving them of the dignity and respect they deserve.

It was with complete fury that I read Nigel Bunyan's brilliant interview with Michael Becker , 62, who has spent 31 years giving blameless service to the cause of teaching children in Suffolk. Just as he was preparing to retire amid the thanks of his community, he has been convicted of assault by beating, and fined £1,500, with an order to pay a further £1,875 in costs.

What had he done to deserve this disaster? He tried to take action against a boy who refused to stop telling racist jokes during a science lesson. He grabbed the boy by his belt and sweat shirt and removed him to an adjacent store room. The boy claimed he had been turned upside down during the scuffle; the magistrates believed the boy, and the teacher leaves his profession in disgrace.

Whatever the exact facts of the case – and the magistrates will have of course heard them in greater detail than me – you have to wonder whether the punishment is proportionate to the offence.

Or take the case of teaching assistant Mark Ellwood, 46, who was working at the David Lister school in Hull. A boy in his class was wearing his outdoors coat in class and playing with his mobile phone. Mr Ellwood asked the boy to take off his coat and stop fiddling with the mobile. How did the little darling respond to the request? He said "I will have you killed," and threatened to stab the teacher.

Now I don't want to make heavy weather of this, but if I had said such a thing to any of my teachers I would not only have had my mobile officially marmalised. I would have been beaten or slung out of the school. As it was, Mr Ellwood took the boy out of the classroom and to the school car park; and when the kid tried to kick him on the shins, he defensively swung his legs out from under him. After which, Ellwood was charged with assault, lost his job, and has spent nine months of hell until a court sensibly threw the case out.

The real victims in all this are not just the teachers. They are the other kids whose education is being wrecked by a minority of badly behaved children. We don't need the return of the cane. We don't need systematic corporal punishment. All we need is the politicians to have the guts to take on the bullying parents, the supine education authorities, and the crazed culture of health and safety.

We want the next education secretary to stand up and say that the law is plainly and unambiguously on the side of the teacher exercising reasonable discipline – and not on the side of the violent little squirts who are trying to make their jobs impossible.


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