An Arlington teacher has been reprimanded and removed from her third-grade classroom following complaints that she ordered some boys in her class to strip down to their underwear earlier this month in a search for stolen items.
Parents had also complained that the teacher, Kathy Houston, ordered her students to leave their coats behind when they left school that same afternoon so she could search the pockets for watches that children had reported missing.
Arlington School Board Chairman Evelyn Reid Syphax said yesterday that Houston, who has been teaching at the school since 1976, has been removed from Taylor Elementary School and given a substitute teaching assignment pending further investigation of the incident, which occurred during the first week of February.
Houston could not be reached for comment yesterday. She said in an interview two weeks ago when reports about the incident first surfaced that a controversy followed her search for the missing items. "My efforts to retrieve them were considered questionable," she said then, declining to elaborate on the incident.
According to interviews with parents, Houston, 35, had apparently been troubled by the disappearance of watches and had ushered many of the boys in her class into a restroom where they were directed to remove shirts and trousers. She then searched the pockets, and sent both girls and boys home without their coats, lunch boxes and book bags, so that she could search them as well, the parents said.
A number of parents came to the school with complaints immediately following the incident. "This is worse than the lady who went into the Arlington jail . . . and got strip-searched," said one father, adding that his son came home in tears after the incident.
Another parent said her child was humiliated by the incident and would only whisper to her that "something bad happened at school today." She said, "He was too young to realize that his rights were being infringed on. He felt as though it was he who had done something wrong."
Some parents said their children's health was jeopardized by being sent home without coats on a brisk winter day. "The next day my son caught a cold," said Hideharu Matsuzaka.
School board member Margaret Bocek said the incident was not the first time parents have complained about Houston.
A number of parents said yesterday that they had been concerned because they felt Houston assigned homework haphazardly, and allowed students to talk out of turn and walk about the classroom. After the incident, however, other parents submitted a petition in support of Houston, calling her, in the words of one parent, a gifted teacher. "I think she did what she did and it was ill-advised," said parent Barbara Ellis, "but giftedness is not something you learn in teaching school."