The Prick of Local Authority
What to make of the story of the teacher who accidentally stapled a student’s head?
A Superior Court judge has upheld the firing of a Smithfield social studies teacher for stapling a student’s scalp during a classroom stunt three years ago.
Judge Daniel A. Procaccini ruled that the Smithfield School Committee, the state education commissioner and the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education Appeals Committee showed “good and just cause” in finding that Bethany St. Pierre should be dismissed from her job as a Smithfield High School social studies teacher after injuring a student and then urging the class to cover it up.
The education commissioner’s finding of facts, in February 2008, offers a good summary of the incident (PDF). As ever, multiple issues come into play. Should the teacher have been fired for the accident? Absolutely not; our attempts at an antiseptic society contribute (I believe) to a bevy of our current problems, including educational mediocrity. Should she have been fired for not taking appropriate steps that would have alerted other adults to the incident and suggesting that the students keep the incident in the classroom? Probably not, although her first reaction clearly should have been to send the student to the nurse, personally notify the principal, and send a note to the parents (or pick up the phone) to explain the incident. But was the school within its rights to fire her for a mere error of judgment? Yes.
Look, the courts should not be a mechanism for interested parties (such as unions or private associations, like church groups) to leverage higher tiers of government to micromanage the decisions of officials in lower tiers. Resolve the issue through the administrative and political processes available for that purpose. Relying on the judiciary merely lets everybody in power off the hook.