Editor's note (posted at 3:38 p.m., Friday, March 30):
Because of questions posted by commenters on the articles on Patch, Superintendent Paul Kadri was asked Friday to clarify how paper towels were held in the children’s mouths in Carole Van Erven’s fourth-grade class at Northeast Academy.
Kadri said students were not instructed to crumple paper towels into a wad, but rather to place them in their mouths, holding the paper towel between their lips and keeping their mouths closed.
“You take the paper towel, you stick it into your mouth and it’s hanging out of your mouth like a duck bill, it’s not crumpled in your mouth. If you’re holding a paper towel in your mouth, you can’t talk. The idea was to get you to not talk,” Kadri said. He said the principal did a full investigation, with the teacher’s cooperation, to confirm this happened. Kadri said one student started to chew the paper towel, and the teacher told him to throw it away.
In addition, Patch met with Van Erven Friday afternoon, and she declined to comment about the situation on the record.
A parent with two children at is starting a petition to oppose the return of fourth-grade teacher Carole Van Erven to the school.
Debra Frank, a registered nurse for 28 years and school nurse for 10, said she is upset over what happened at the school and the administration’s response.
“... I am horrified not only by what this woman has done to her students, by also by the way that the administration has handled this,” Frank said in an e-mail to other parents. “. What she did IS a ‘fireable offense’ at minimum.”
Frank told parents in the e-mail that she will be at from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday morning with a petition opposing the teacher’s return, and will bring it to anyone to sign if they can’t make the trip.
The teacher, who has been teaching for more than 20 years, after school administrators learned she had asked students to hold paper towels in their mouths for five minutes if they spoke out of turn.
The practice occurred for about three weeks in late January and early February, then stopped, according to Superintendent Paul Kadri.
Kadri has said the teacher made a mistake, she is sorry, and he does not believe it is a fireable offense. , possibly after April break.
Frank began sending e-mails to parents Thursday and also contacted school board members. She has asked to be placed on the agenda to speak at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
In her e-mail to the board, she wrote that administrators responded poorly to the situation. “The manner in which they have handled this situation should be investigated by the Board," she said. "You can not turn a blind eye to this."
Frank has four children, including a high school senior with special needs who had Van Erven in fourth grade at Noank Elementary. Her fourth-grade son this year is not in Van Erven’s class, but was with her during enrichment periods, Frank said.
She said she learned of the incident from the newspaper.
“I am so disgusted on so many levels I can’t even begin to tell you,” she said. “I was having a nice Sunday morning, drinking my coffee and reading the paper and I almost choked when I read the article. I knew nothing about it, nothing whatsoever.”
Frank said her son became visibly upset when she asked about the teacher. But Frank said she later learned he had not been told to put paper towels in his mouth.
She said she still feels compelled to oppose the teacher’s return.
“We’re putting our children in the care of these people for up to seven hours a day,” she said. “And like I said, no matter how you sugarcoat it, this is abuse. And I’m not the type of person where, it wasn’t done to my kid, so it’s OK. ... It’s not right.”