Now a teacher can’t pat a student on the head…

Pat a child on the head? Not at school

Posted: Dec. 30, 2008  

Every veteran teacher knows you can no longer hug a kid.

A Rib Mountain Elementary School art teacher has now discovered, in addition, you’d better not even offer an encouraging pat on the head.

Not unless you want to be investigated by both your bosses and local law enforcement, stand accused of being an assaulter of little children and get reported to Child Protective Services.

Even – it bears repeating here – for something like a friendly pat.

The fifth-grader in question, it is true, somehow thought it was more than that. According to Wausau School District Human Resources Director Jeff Gress, the girl told her mom after school one day this month that her teacher hit her on the head.


The mother called school administrators, who promptly looked into it. By noon the next day, before the investigation had even been completed, the mother then also called the Sheriff’s Department and, said Gress, “reported it as an assault and battery of a child.”

“They thought it was something serious,” he said, “and sent four squad cars” to the school.

Yep, four.

There were three different detectives at the school, he said, plus a deputy in uniform. Because of a conflict of interest, both the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department and the Marshfield Police Department got involved.

At least 10 elementary school children were interviewed, none of whom saw the teacher hit anyone – and for good reason. She didn’t.

According to Gress, the teacher herself recalled merely walking around the room and placing a hand on the back or shoulder of the fifth-grader, who was seated at a desk, then giving her “a little tap on the head” as a way of saying “good job or keep going.”

The girl, he said, did not cry out in any way that anyone remembered or even say anything to anyone other than her mother. Who apparently cried out aplenty.

Much of local law enforcement was unavailable, so I couldn’t get her name from reports or, for that matter, from administrators concerned about confidentiality. I couldn’t contact her for her side. I do know, however, that her side comes from her child.

I also know the investigations found that the teacher didn’t violate any laws or policies. The report to Child Protective Services was mandatory, but the agency doesn’t plan to investigate.

Still, the teacher has been reassigned to another school for what, from all appearances, was a pat on the head.

Monica Reif, president of the Wausau Education Association, indicated that the teacher did not fight the transfer. We can infer, I think, she wanted to get away from both the kid and the parent – and what teacher wouldn’t?

Kids are notoriously inaccurate. Any sane parent knows that. And yet increasing numbers of parents are not sane. School administrators and law enforcement, as a result, are either forced to investigate or overreact – and waste tons of time and tax dollars. And that’s not the worst of it.

Teachers won’t give up on just hugs. They’ll give up anything that can be misconstrued, and everything can somehow be misconstrued.

They’ll give up, surely and understandably, encouraging pats on the head because there’s a decent chance some kid’s parent will make a Rib Mountain out of a molehill.

If I were a teacher, I wouldn’t even consider entering a classroom without a camera, three adult witnesses and a plan for a new career if things went awry.

Hard to see, sadly, why anyone would.


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