Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ND: West Fargo School District to change corporal punishment policy

After West Fargo teacher Mavis Tjon was fired, she vowed to seek protection for other teachers.
By: Kelly Smith, INFORUM
October 27, 2009

After West Fargo teacher Mavis Tjon was fired, she vowed to seek protection for other teachers.

Now, she said, teachers have that protection.

The West Fargo School District is changing its corporal punishment policy to follow state legislation passed because of Tjon’s firing.

“I feel like the job that I started when I said ‘something good can come from this’ is done,” she said Monday. “And I also feel that it really does vindicate me in terms of saying that I was not treated fairly.”

On Monday, West Fargo School Board members reviewed changes to the district’s longstanding policy and expect to approve the revised policy on Nov. 9.

After she was fired in 2006, Tjon argued the district’s policy contained gaps that affected teachers.

She lobbied for a change in state law and several North Dakota legislators took up her case, sponsoring changes in legislation.

In March, the Legislature approved changes that require uniform disciplinary policies across schools and prohibit corporal punishment policies that are stricter than state law. When she was dismissed, Tjon taught in three West Fargo schools.

“There was a lot of support out there,” Tjon said. “I think that verifies what I was saying, that this needed to change.”

The district’s former policy, last revised in 1990, contained four sentences defining corporal punishment as “physical pain inflicted on a student.” The district allowed each school to develop its own disciplinary policies.

The district’s new page-long policy defines corporal punishment as “willful infliction of pain on a student,” and requires identical disciplinary policies, procedures and guidelines across all schools.

“It tries to standardize how we deal with student conduct at a higher level,” said Robin Hill, the district’s human resources director.

Tjon, who taught music for 25 years, was fired for violating the district’s corporal punishment policy after she said she tapped a boy on the head to get his attention.

Now, the 66-year-old said she finds solace in the new district policy.

“I was angry at the very beginning but … I really let go of that,” she said.

She also hopes the changes in policy will ensure teachers are treated more fairly if incidents like hers happen again.

“I wish it hadn’t had to take legislation to change their policies,” she said. “I really hope they’ll be more reasonable in the future.”

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