Investigation of Pardeeville teacher reaches state level

March 23, 2019 GMT

PARDEEVILLE — The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is now handling the investigation into a Pardeeville High School English teacher who reportedly made an insensitive remark about police violence in her classroom.

The incident occurred Nov. 2, as the teacher read aloud to her students from the book “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, a young adult novel about a teenager who’s drawn to activism after witnessing a police shooting.

Within the context of the book, Superintendent Gus Knitt said in November, the teacher used an analogy concerning police violence against African-Americans to make a point as one of her students was misbehaving. She suggested that if she were a police officer, she would shoot misbehaving students. She did not deny making the comment when she later met with administrators, Knitt said.

The Pardeeville Area School District hired a private investigator from the law firm Davis and Kuelthau in Green Bay in November to determine the intentions of her remark. The investigator interviewed the teacher, her colleagues, students and the parents of the students, Knitt said Wednesday, and the investigation was concluded at the end of February.

Earliter that month, DPI requested that all findings of the investigation be turned over to their department, which is now investigating the incident to determine whether it would impact the teacher’s license, Knitt said. An unidentified person submitted a letter of concern about the incident to DPI around the time of its request for more information, Knitt added.

The Pardeeville School Board has not yet discussed the specifics of the investigation in open session or made any decisions regarding it and would not do so until the DPI concludes its own probe, School Board President Margo Pufahl and Knitt said this week.

DPI said it could not provide any information concerning the investigation until it is concluded.

The teacher has been out on family medical leave since Jan. 22, Knitt said. Her classroom is currently led by a licensed substitute teacher.

“We have such a wonderful teaching staff in Pardeeville, and so many of them have been here for a very long time,” Pufahl said Wednesday. “I think we’re very fortunate for that. There are incidents like this that are unfortunate, but we’ll deal with it and we’ll move on from there. It’s a great school system.”

The school district learned about the teacher’s comment from a parent on Nov. 5. The teacher then met with administrators, who promptly disciplined the teacher. She apologized to her classroom on Nov. 7, Knitt said that month. Further discipline for the teacher was not disclosed nor discussed by the school board in open session.

“I’m especially disturbed by what I believe to be a horrible stereotype of law enforcement,” Knitt said in November. “Whether the comment was in context or not, it is a terrible stereotype, especially when I think about (our local law enforcement). They do their job. They enforce the law, and they don’t care who it is that’s breaking the law.”

The context of her comment is important to consider, Knitt emphasized last year. “We think her statement was a bad analogy — a bad stereotype — but the statement didn’t come out of the blue.”

In the aftermath of the incident, both Pufahl and Knitt have said school employees everywhere need to choose their words carefully. Training sessions concerning sensitivity are possible but wouldn’t be held until the conclusion of DPI’s investigation, Knitt said Friday.

“There are so many opportunities (for comments) to be misinterpreted,” Pufahl said in November. “So I think what you have to do is fully engage your filter, so that you think before you speak. It’s not necessarily going to work all the time, in the moment, but we all have to be very, very careful because there are so many things that can easily offend others. You need to watch what you say.

“This is a learning experience for us, and we’ll turn it into a teaching lesson — how things can kind of explode, even when that wasn’t the intention.”