Children Forgotten
By Dr. Colin P. Kerr, Pediatrician
A letter to The Democrat, 10/14/82, Winters, California


I think the children have been forgotten.

This newspaper, in a front page article on Wednesday, Oct. 6, quoted extensively from one of the candidates for County Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Jack Graf, who did not once, in a carefully prepared series of statements, allude to the welfare of the first grade children in this school district.

I am a pediatrician and am concerned about those first grade children who are my patients.

Mr. Graf raised a number of legitimate questions. He asks, "What specifically is being done wrong by the teacher?" but does not acknowledge, as your article did, that he had received an explicit written statement of the 11 charges against Mrs. Gardner. He asks, "Have the people who signed the petition actually observed this teacher in her classroom?" but does not acknowledge that at least a half dozen had, and that Mrs. Gardner has admitted to three individual parents that she has shaken children, pulled their hair, and even put tape over the mouth of a child. Mr. Graf asks, "Have they conferred with the teacher about the alleged problems?" but does not acknowledge that over the years many have, and that Mrs. Gardner, Mr. Iribarne and Mr. Graf himself have refused to meet with a representative group of petitioners to discuss the alleged problems.

Mr. Graf comments that "Community members (parents) are not necessarily the best judges of teacher discipline..." The Winters parents want to know if taping a child's mouth shut, if picking a child up by both arms and shaking him, if dragging a child across the room or playground by the arm, or if pulling a child's hair is, in Mr. Graf's opinion... absolutely necessary to maintain order in the classroom in the first grade?

These parents never consented to this kind of conduct. Mr. Graf, it appears, has not brought the Winters Joint Unified School District into conformity with the law.

Mrs. Gardner is an unfortunate, harassed woman who is unequal to the strain of controlling a classroom of young children. She has my sympathies. The children, however, are blameless; and my concern for a teacher under stress does not extend so far as to condone the methods of discipline in question.

Mr. Graf excuses his reluctance to reassign this teacher by focusing on the difficulties she might experience "if she had to concentrate on learning how to teach a new grade level." He does not acknowledge, however, that not only has this teacher had experience in teaching older grades (both 4th and 6th), but also that his own school district's professional staff have stated that she actually performed better in those higher grades.

Mr. Graf ignores the matter of public record that exactly this same issue concerning this same teacher surfaced 15 years ago in Winters and resulted in re-assignment of Mrs. Gardner from the first grade to the sixth grade. The principal complainant at that time was a member of the School Board whose child required psychotherapy and years of effort to try to ameliorate the harm done by his experience in Mrs. Gardner's class. Now there are at least a half-dozen other children who have had to receive psychological help to remedy the harm suffered from this teacher's conduct.

How long will six-year-old children have to pay the price for an 18-year-old problem that Mr. Graf characterizes as only "a series of minor incidents"? Isn't 18 years of "talking to the teacher" and "writing memos directing the teacher to change" enough? Isn't there a point at which you have to admit that reasonable efforts have not succeeded adequately in protecting first grade children who are the most vulnerable children in the entire school system?

Mr. Graf obviously is indisposed to deal with this problem.

As a pediatrician, I find it to be my responsibility to protest wherever and whenever my patients experience needless physical or emotional harm. California law, in fact, would require me, if I witnessed them myself, to report to public authorities any of the physical marks that some of these parents say their children have sustained from Mrs. Gardner. (Penal Code, sections 11165 and 11167). Therefore, I protest.

Mr. Graf has not demonstrated concern for the children's welfare, but seems more concerned about the teachers. I would only like to point out that teachers have a very strong union and abundant laws to protect their specific rights. School children have no union, and the laws direct the school officials to protect their rights. When school officials fail to protect the children's rights, who can these six-year-olds turn to?

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