Bully or motivator? Teacher shames fourth-graders for flunking

Bully or motivator? A fourth-grade teacher in Idaho had  students who met their reading goals to draw on the faces of classmates who failed.

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Bully or motivator in reading goals? An Idaho teacher let fourth-graders who met their reading goals write on the faces of kids who failed to meet their goals.

A fourth-grade teacher in southern Idaho is being criticized after having her students use permanent markers to draw on the faces of classmates who failed to meet reading goals.

Some parents and administrators say the punishments given to nine students in Summer Larsen's class were inappropriate and left the children feeling shamed.

Cindy Hurst said recently her 10-year-old son came home from school Nov. 5 with his entire face – including his eyelids – scribbled on with green, red and purple markers.

"He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face," Ms. Hurst told The Times-News of Twin Falls. "He knows he's a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it."

Ms. Larsen, who has taught at the school for six years, didn't respond to requests for comment. But Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer confirmed what took place in her classroom, though he didn't name Larsen.

The students were allowed to choose their own incentive to meet the reading goal, but instead of a reward, the class chose a punishment: Students who failed to meet the goal could either stay inside at recess until it was met, or have their faces written on by classmates who met the goals.

Nine students didn't meet the goals, the paper reported on Nov. 16. Three chose to forgo recess, and the other six chose to have their faces marked on.

"Although all the students in the class agreed to the incentive, once it occurred it was not so well received. Nor should it have been," Mr. Smyer said.

LeRoy Robinson, who has two grandchildren who had their faces marked for failing to meet the goals, said the punishment was bullying. The children had their faces marked in the morning, and were told to leave it on all day but to wash it off before they went home, Mr. Robinson said.

"Other kids were asking them about it and laughing at them," he said.

Robinson's wife, Karla Robinson, said the ink was hard to wash away and most kids couldn't get it off their faces, leaving them embarrassed — especially when they had to ride the bus home with junior high and high school students.

Some parents were supportive, however. Karla Christensen, whose daughter met Larsen's reading goals, said the teacher was just trying to motivate students.

RELATED: Are you a 'Helicopter Parent?' take our QUIZ!

Smyer wouldn't confirm whether the teacher faced any disciplinary action, but parents said she was absent from school for the next few days, returning to the classroom Nov. 12.

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