A Florida teacher could lose her job for treating students like dogs. Pasco County high school teacher Laurie Bailey-Cutkomp, 47, used a veterinary cone usually reserved for sick puppies to discipline her misbehaving ninth graders. Her actions have caused outrage among parents, but some students are coming to her defense.
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Bailey-Cutkomp, a twelve-year veteran of Zephyrhills High, came up with the measure after her class screened the Disney movie, "Up." In the movie, a four-legged character introduces the "cone of shame" as the ultimate punishment. After students asked about the collar, the teacher, a former vet worker, brought one into class and allegedly decided to put it to use.
One student was 'coned' for bringing a soda to class. Others who arrived late to class were given the option to wear the plastic neck-piece instead of sitting at the "tardy table." At least eight students wore the collar, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Some even asked to wear it, according to one student defending her teacher's actions.
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"Everybody was just joking around with it," Tanisha Medina, a ninth-grader who happily wore the cone, told WCSH local news. "She came up behind me and she said, 'Is it fine?' I said, 'Yeah, sure, it's fine."
But it wasn't fine with everyone. After photos of the classroom incident were posted on Facebook, parents and school staffers were outraged.
"I am stunned that you would put dog collars on students for any reason," the district's superintendent Heather Fiorentino wrote in a letter to Bailey-Cutkomp. "I am very concerned that you used this collar to punish and embarrass students in front of their peers."
While Fiorentino goes on to acknowledge the teacher's innocent intentions, she does not excuse them. "You said that you intended for the collar to be 'innovative' and 'related to real world situations,' but that it did not work," she wrote. "You stated that you intended for the collar to be a joke and that you did not intend to be malicious but that you heard after the fact that some students were embarrassed."
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Now Bailey-Cutkomp has hired a lawyer and been placed on unpaid leave. Meanwhile both teachers and students have found themselves taking sides. Some have come to Bailey-Cutkomps defense, while others find her actions unforgivable. Ultimately, her future as a teacher will be decided at a school board hearing, where she'll face charges of violating district and state ethics rules. On Thursday, the local teacher's union official backed Bailey-Cutkomp.
"We believe it's an overreaction to the situation," Lynne Webb, president of United School Employees of Pasco, said in a statement to press. "Termination is really not appropriate. We should be able to find something short of firing the teacher."
According Reuters' legal reporter Stephanie Rabiner, 'coned' students may be able to sue Bailey-Cutkomp for intentional infliction of emotional distress. "The student-teacher relationship generally does not permit such demeaning and highly embarrassing conduct," writes Rabiner. "Bailey-Cutkomp effectively equated these children to dogs in front of their peers."
As unconventional as this punishment seems, it's not altogether new. Dunce caps and publicly humiliating accessories have long been used on students as disciplinary tools. In recent years, school officials have gone so far as to put actual dog leashes and duct tape on children. What has changed is our understanding of how damaging these tactics can be to a student's psyche and the classroom culture at large. Technology has helped with the crackdown, too. SmartPhones, and in this case, Facebook, have given kids, and their parents, more clout in the face of unchallenged authority.
Not everyone thinks that's a positive change. Medina, that staunch student defender of Bailey-Cutkomp blames her fellow classmate with the camera for the upheaval. "Some kid, I don't know what he did," she told local news. "He ruined it for all of us."
If that unidentified student wasn't shamed by his teacher before, he most certainly is now.
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