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Peter Zucker

Peter Zucker

Posted: December 29, 2010 10:59 AM

Sorry if I am late for the party. I'm thinking back to September when I posted on Twitter about a speech Michelle Rhee had made at the Columbia Heights Education Campus in Washington DC.

Rhee before a gathering was recounting her early days as an educator and the miscues that we all have made. I recall, now with a smile, of sending thirty-five fifth graders to the closet at once at dismissal time.

According to audio made by Rhee at the CHEC and reported by Alexander Russo and the Washington Post, Rhee said she, "took little pieces of masking tapes and put them on everybody's lips." At this point in her story the crowd laughs. She goes on to explain that, "their skin is coming off and that they are bleeding," and the crowd still is laughing. This is just wrong.

So why after three months or so of this being reported am I finally sharing my two cents? I guess it is seeing the launching of MichelleRheefirst.org er, I meant, Studentsfirst.org. Even though what Michelle Rhee did can be attributed to inexperience, as an educator, and even more so as a parent, I am uncomfortable about this having happened.

But what has gotten me most riled up, gotten my gander up, has bunched up my Fruit of the Looms is that a close, close person to me in another state has been reassigned because he dared to joke about taping students mouths. Now don't get me wrong, it was stupid to joke in this way. No doubt about it. But it should not involve a police investigation.

I decided to Google past transgressions of teachers taping students mouths and wondered if these teachers were able to skate by as did Michelle Rhee. The names are not meant to "out" these teachers in no shape or form. These names, the accusations are widely available. It is only meant to "out" Michelle Rhee.

In 2008, Pamela Dahnke was terminated for taping a student's mouth shut. She was an eighth-grade health and nutrition teacher at Battle Ground Middle School in West Lafayette, Ind. Did she get the same treatment as Michelle Rhee?

In 2009, Laura Gatlin, a first grade teacher in Cleveland County, Ark. was accused of taping students mouth and to the chair. Her lawyer's comment is here. Has she been afforded the same accolades and laughter as Michelle Rhee?

In 2006, in Katy, Texas, Jennifer Silva reportedly taped some the mouths of several students. When the superintendent got wind, he notified her he would recommend she was terminated. Why was she recommended for termination yet, Michelle Rhee is seen as the savior of education?

Just earlier this year, a teacher was accused of duct taping a student's mouth in Mishawaka, Ind. This student has Asperger's syndrome. The website, care2.com reported, "There are certainly many creative things that people do with duct tape. But using it on a child's mouth, and on the mouth of a child on the autism spectrum, is (serious understatement) not one of them." Does this feel as vehement about what Michelle Rhee did and will care2.com lead the charge to make sure that Michelle Rhee is no longer near students?

And in January 2008, a well-liked Driscoll School, Brookline, MA, science teacher, Christopher Huggins , is out of a job last week after allegedly duct-taping a 12-year-old girl's mouth during class. Michelle Rhee is not well liked. Why isn't she removed from the entire scene?

In 2009, a first grade teacher at Spaulding Elementary School, Emily Metcalfe, in Townsend, Mass., used duct tape on several students' mouths. The principal was quoted as saying, "The superintendent went on to say that the teacher may have thought at first this was a joke, but that there was a lack of professional judgment." Didn't Michelle Rhee show a lack of judgment?

I am in no way condoning, nor condemning what these teachers had done. They have every single right to be proven guilty, not to prove their innocence. That is how the American system works. But, does the punishment fit the crime? Especially in light of Michelle Rhee's acknowledgment of what she has done and the education reformers sweeping it under the rug? Do these teachers not deserve the same benefit of the doubt and second chance that Michelle Rhee has received? No one in this country is above the law!

What is especially galling to me is that no one -- not Oprah, not Bill Gates, not any of the high falutin' power brokers that either interview Michelle Rhee, work with her, or pal around with her -- will bring this abuse of children up with her.

This is all too chilling and reminds me, and for those who are old enough, of when Richard Nixon appeared with David Frost in 1977 when Nixon uttered those famous words: "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."