Baker teacher’s arrest raises questions of discipline

How far can a teacher go to maintain discipline as an effective educator?

Baker School Board President Dana Carpenter said that question is at the heart of Thursday’s arrest of Baker Middle School teacher accused of grabbing an eighth-grade student by his shirt and yanking him out of her classroom.

Carpenter said Friday the Baker Police Department’s decision to arrest and jail 47-year-old teacher Deborah Anderson was too aggressive.

She was handcuffed at the school, placed in a patrol car and driven to the Baker Police Department before she was transferred to East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and booked with simple battery and held until she could post bond.

“It was a bit hasty. How could they do that without knowing the full story?” Carpenter asked Friday.

Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps has defended the Police Department’s decision to book Anderson by citing Police Department protocol.

“Our normal protocol is to book an adult on battery charges when the victim is a juvenile. The purpose for this is to allow a cool-down period,” Knaps wrote in an email to The Advocate on Friday when asked about the reason for the misdemeanor arrest.

However, Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers union, said Friday that Anderson’s arrest sends a bad message to educators in Baker and teachers statewide.

“This sends a message to teachers that if the protocol is so stark and clear, you could find yourself arrested and taken to jail if you put your hands on someone. These teachers have to uphold order and take reasonable action, and it seems like, in this case, the teacher’s actions were reasonable,” Monaghan said.

Both Carpenter and Baker School Superintendent Ulysses Joseph have said issuing a misdemeanor summons to Anderson would have been a more appropriate way to handle the incident.

“She (Anderson) was just trying to discipline the kid. This is the kind of thing that can render a teacher ineffective,” Joseph said Friday.

Asked about the remarks of Joseph and Carpenter, Knaps wrote, “I really have no comment on why the superintendent or the school board president would have commented without knowledge of the contents of the sworn affidavit against the teacher.”

Knaps said Friday that the department was not called by anyone at the school or by anyone with the School Board. Knaps said the department was called by the student’s mother.

According to a news release issued Thursday by Knaps, the student told police that Anderson grabbed him and made him stand outside the class because his shirt was not tucked in.

Knaps said the facts related in the news release were drawn from a sworn affidavit that the 13-year-old student signed in his mother’s presence.

Police were called to the school at 10:38 a.m.

Joseph said Anderson told the student three times to tuck in his shirt. He refused and resisted the teacher when she tried to get him to exit the classroom.

Other teachers at the school who said they did not witness the incident told police the victim seemed to be emotional and upset following the incident, Knaps said.

The student’s mother, Charity Schofield, said she was called by one of the school’s assistant principals and told her son was in the school office upset because a teacher “snatched” him.

Schofield drove to the school and asked school officials to see her son. She said they would not allow her to see him and told her if she insisted on seeing him she would have to take him home. She said she and her son went outside of the campus and called police to report what happened.

“My job is to protect my child. What if my son hit her? You know he would have had handcuffs on him,” Schofield said.

Schofield said she didn’t think the arrest was too much.

“Maybe if they would do that more often they wouldn’t have incidents at Baker Middle School all the time,” Schofield said.

Knaps said in the news release on the teacher’s arrest that Anderson refused to give a statement because she didn’t have an attorney present.

Anderson, who was booked at the jail just after 4 p.m. on Thursday, posted $2,000 bail sometime later in the day and was then released, jail officials said.

Anderson was home Friday afternoon but did not answer her door when The Advocate attempted to interview her about Thursday’s incident.

Joseph said Anderson is on paid administrative leave.

Although Anderson didn’t want to comment, her teacher union president, Carnell Washington of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, called her arrest absurd.

“To book her and bring her to jail? If this is the way things are going to be, I would tell all teachers to never try to break up a fight because you are either going to get hurt or arrested,” Washington said.

Washington said Anderson did not hurt or abuse the child but the teacher told him she was pushed and scratched by the victim.

Carpenter said he wished the Police Department would have taken more time to investigate what happened.

Carpenter also said he thinks the Baker School Board needs to create some kind of cooperative endeavor agreement with the Police Department on how to better handle these kinds of investigations at schools.

Monaghan also questioned why the police in Baker did not just give the teacher a misdemeanor summons.

“Unless there is something I don’t know, there is no real bodily harm or serious injury here. The teacher is not a flight risk. Why arrest her? You have to ask, if this was a person of influence, would the police have done the same?” Monaghan said.

Baker police also were involved in an incident that occurred at the middle school on Feb. 10.

Tamara Green has said her son, a seventh-grader at the school, was involved in some kind of horseplay with a paraprofessional and, sometime during that incident, the educator battered her son.

Green said the paraprofessional told officials he felt threatened by her son, and because of that, he held her son down on the ground by holding him by his neck.

Green said the educator should have been booked and taken to jail like Anderson.

But Knaps said Thursday the officer involved in the Feb. 10 incident unilaterally decided to issue a misdemeanor summons for simple battery instead of booking him. Knaps has said the officer should have booked the paraprofessional. The officer was disciplined for breaking protocol, Knaps said.

The paraprofessional, Joseph said, is on paid administrative leave.

According to Knaps’ release, Anderson is due to appear in Baker City Court on April 29 to address the arrest.