Groton - Parents were denied the chance to speak out against fourth-grade teacher Carol VanErven on Monday night at the Board of Education meeting.
VanErven, who teaches at Northeast Academy, has not returned to the classroom since late last month, after school administrators learned that she had made students hold paper towels between their lips to keep from talking, Superintendent Paul Kadri said.
School Board Chairman Kirsten Hoyt told Debra Frank and a group of parents there to support Frank that she could not address the issue because it is a personnel matter. Kadri said later that the incident, while serious in nature, was not a dangerous one.
Earlier reports had stated that VanErven made some of her students stuff paper towels in their mouths.
"They held a paper towel between their lips, like a duck bill," Kadri said. "It's the same paper towels they are taught to use to wipe their hands and mouth with after eating or washing up."
Kadri said that when one student wadded the paper towel in his mouth, VanErven made him spit it out.
The public is not allowed to make accusations about a staff member in a public meeting, Kadri said. He said he would meet with Frank, who does not have a child in the class but is concerned because her child might encounter VanErven in the future.
Attorney James Hall, who said he represents a parent of one of VanErven's students, was also at the meeting.
"I have represented victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse for more than 15 years," Hall said. "I'm representing a parent in this case. I'm still investigating the situation at this time."
Several parents gathered in the halls of the school administration building while the school board went into executive session on another matter. Most of them said they wanted VanErven removed from the classroom.
"I'm passionate that we cannot be a community that allows these kinds of mistakes to go unchecked," Kadri said. "It isn't acceptable, and she faced tough consequences. But it is in no way going to be allowed to destroy her career. She will be allowed to earn back the parents' trust and her reputation."