School Climate & Safety

Teachers Resign After Peer Is Fired in Mo. District

By Jessica L. Tonn — June 07, 2005 3 min read
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A principal’s decision to make a 4th grade girl move rocks as punishment, along with the subsequent firing of a teacher who helped the child, apparently has resulted in the departure of seven of the 10 teachers in Missouri’s tiny East Lynne school district.

The controversy started in September, when Christa Price, then a 2nd grade teacher at the 163-student East Lynne Elementary School, discovered that Principal Dan L. Doerhoff had ordered the unidentified girl to use a five-gallon bucket to carry rocks from a former construction site to a wooded area near the school.

The girl, left unsupervised except for a security camera, according to Ms. Price, received the three-day punishment for an infraction that school officials are not disclosing.

When Ms. Price asked Mr. Doerhoff to reconsider what she believed to be a too-harsh penalty, or to move the girl closer to the school for safety reasons, he refused. The teacher and several of her colleagues then took turns monitoring the girl during their breaks and free periods over the next two days.

In December, Mr. Doerhoff, who is also the 253-student district’s superintendent, recommended that the school board not renew Ms. Price’s one-year contract, citing her failure to support the administration during the September incident as the reason. Untenured Missouri teachers must renew their contracts annually, and are usually eligible for tenure after five years.

State Extends Certification

Ms. Price was in her fourth year of teaching at the school, and had successfully completed three previous performance reviews, when the school board accepted Mr. Doerhoff’s recommendation for nonrenewal.

In order to upgrade her teacher certification to a lifetime, career-level certification, Ms. Price needs four successful reviews. The state education department has extended her initial certificate level for another year, and she will be eligible for career certification in one year, says Rusty Rosenkoetter, the department’s director of educator certification.

“It pretty much comes down to he fired me over the safety of a student,” Ms. Price contended last week.

Six of the school’s untenured teachers decided to let their contracts with the district expire to protest Ms. Price’s dismissal this spring, according to Ms. Price. A seventh teacher, who was tenured, also resigned.

According to Mr. Doerhoff, the teachers are leaving for a “multiplicity of reasons.” He maintains that several have taken jobs closer to their homes, that one is a new mother, and that one teaching position is being eliminated at the school, among other reasons.

“I don’t agree that all the teachers left in protest,” he said, although he conceded that at least two had.

The Kansas City Star, however, reported that the seven departing teachers issued a statement that said, in part, “If a teacher who advocates on behalf of safety of a student is not fit to be a teacher at East Lynne or anywhere in Missouri according to this administration, then none of us are fit to teach at East Lynne.”

No More Rocks

Though Mr. Doerhoff expressed concerns about the high turnover of teachers, he said contracts have been offered for all the open teaching positions at the school.

As for the rock punishment, he says he will not use it again.

Ted Feinberg, the assistant executive director of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Association of School Psychologists, described the punishment as “medieval in nature,” and “intended to humiliate and degrade the child.” He suggested using a positive behavioral approach that addresses the root cause of a disciplinary problem, and an intervention that appropriately matches the offense.

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