Teachers, officials react to child abuse charges

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SALT LAKE CITY — There has been a strong reaction to criminal child abuse charges filed Tuesday against a special education teacher Kimberley Wallace, who is accused of throwing an empty soda can at one of her students.

Teachers throughout the state have to deal with extremely stressful situations regularly. One retired teacher, who doesn't condone what happened, offered insight on what teachers face in the classroom every day.

"A student might be flagrantly disrespectful and disobedient. And it makes it very difficult," said Vicki McMurray. "And parents are challenging. Teachers' motives are being challenged,"

McMurray, who once taught junior high, said most teachers come to school willing to help students learn, but "they have parents who challenge them, they have more pressure from administration and test scores, and all of those kinds of things," McMurray said. "It makes it hard to do your job when you have so much negative coming at you."

The background of the incident is unknown, as is whether there was more that led up to the encounter between the student and Wallace, who teaches at West Lake Junior High. While Granite School District would not give details about the student, Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill said he received information from police indicating "the student presented special needs issues."

How and what does the state investigate?
  • Reasonable force (i.e. Student posed great threat, etc)
  • If the teacher has a history of violence, yet continues to get work in other districts
  • They don't just suspend licenses on one incident, they collect all sorts of information to determine disciplinary action against the teacher

"There (is) absolutely a lot of pressure on teachers," said Caro Lear, an investigator with the Utah State Office of Education. "There's a lot of stress. On the other hand what we always say to teachers is that you are always the adult. You're always the one who's supposed to be in control."

Carol Lear investigates these types of situations and reviews teacher licensure. In the past two years, Lear's office has seen about 10 similar incidents with about four teachers having their licenses suspended.

"They certainly can use reasonable force under the circumstances. So if a student is attacking a teacher, attacking another student, hurting himself or in a significant way hurting school property, the teacher can do what's reasonably necessary," Lear said.

"And not that teachers are always right," said Vicky McMurray "Certainly there are situations where teachers are at fault. But I think the general attitude about authority and about teaching has changed so much."

The state Office of Education is not currently investigating this case, but officials with office told KSL that in the past, the office has investigated similar cases.


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