Montgomery County School Superintendent Edward Andrews yesterday reprimanded a White Oak Junior High School physical education teacher for forcefully grabbing a student who swore at her.
The incident has sparked concern in the racially mixed Silver Spring community because it was the third time in a year that allegations have been raised at the school about a white physical education teacher assaulting a black student. A number of White Oak parents--both white and black--also have questioned whether discipline and instruction by gym teachers may be too rigid.
Andrews, in an unusually terse letter to an NAACP representative who sparked debate about the incident, said that it was only after the student used a racist epithet in speaking to the teacher, Sharon Emond, that she grabbed the student by her jacket and knocked off her headphones. The student's gold necklace also was broken.
Andrews said yesterday that although Emond's actions were "inappropriate and unprofessional," an investigation into the two-week old-incident did not disclose any pattern of racial discrimination and that there was "no doubt" that it was initiated by the female student's "verbally abusive comment."
Further, he criticized Eula Odom, education chairman for the county NAACP, for suggesting at a public meeting that the incident and two others had racial overtones. "I believe that publicizing unproved allegations of staff racism . . . will only incite some students to inappropriate and provocative racist behavior," he said in his letter.
The student, 14, subsequently was suspended from school, Andrews said yesterday, and Emond, who has been suspended with pay since the incident while an investigation was conducted, will return to school today. A copy of the reprimand will be placed in her file and no additional action will be taken. Emond could not be reached for comment.
White Oak principal John Schneider yesterday defended the school's gym teachers and welcomed Andrews' finding. Schneider added, however, that as a result of the investigation and parental concern he planned to meet with PTA leaders and to introduce a teacher training program in the fall on how to cope with disciplining students.
State school regulations prohibit corporal punishment of students, although corporal punishment is not clearly defined.
In a meeting last week with the county school board, Odom criticized the school system for dealing inappropriately with teachers accused of unfairly and physically disciplining black students. In particular, Odom pointed to the incidents--which she called "physical attacks"--at White Oak.
In all three cases that have occurred since last May, Odom said the students received some form of medical attention and in one case, where the parents of one male student brought criminal charges, the teacher agreed to perform court-supervised community service.
All three teachers still are teaching at the school, according to personnel director Stephen Rohr. Black students make up 28 percent of White Oak's 1,093 students.
In one case last fall, Odom said gym teacher George Kaye repeatedly slammed a black student against a glass door braced with a metal bar after the student asked Kaye to pay a bet he had won with the teacher. Kaye, according to Odom, bet the student $5 that he did not have permission to leave another teacher's class. Kaye lost the bet, Odom said, and the student then began to ask Kaye for the money every time he saw him.
Odom said the student's back was badly bruised and cut. Kaye would not comment on the incident. According to court records, assault charges were dropped against Kaye after he agreed to perform 24 hours of alternative community service. School officials said they took action against Kaye, but they declined to elaborate.
In an earlier case that occurred a year ago, another black student transferred to a different junior high school after he allegedly was pushed over a chair by a different gym teacher during a dodgeball game and suffered contusions.
The teacher in that case, Robert Sheldon, declined to discuss the case yesterday other than to say there was "an enormous amount of discrepancy" in recalling the facts.
Sheldon added that he thought teachers were being unfairly maligned in these incidents.
The White Oak PTA president, Beverly Soodak, said earlier this week that parents were not surprised about Odom's allegations.
Over the last few years, she said, parents have welcomed tighter discipline policies, but some parents now question whether certain teachers have gone too far.