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Anchorage teacher accused of shoving a student at Ptarmigan Elementary has resigned, ASD says

Alaska Dispatch News - 12/15/2018

Dec. 15--A longtime teacher who the Anchorage School District says shoved and grabbed a student in May has resigned.

Deena Bishop, school district superintendent, announced the resignation in a statement Friday afternoon. The Ptarmigan Elementary School teacher had been out of the classroom and on paid administrative leave for several months, according to the school district.

"The conduct of this teacher was unacceptable and should not happen in any school," Bishop said. "Our students should be encouraged, and when necessary, appropriately disciplined. That did not happen here."

The teacher, Lynn Sherwood, was charged in June with one misdemeanor count of child abuse, stemming from the May 3 incident. She was accused of pushing one of her second-grade students, who is autistic, into a wall and then a door at Ptarmigan Elementary School. City prosecutors, however, later dismissed the abuse charge, saying they couldn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Meanwhile, there's an ongoing civil case against the school district that's tied to the alleged incident at Ptarmigan Elementary. The student's parents brought the lawsuit against the district on their son's behalf.

Sherwood wrote in a text message that she didn't immediately have comment Friday.

"Eventually I'll have more to say," she wrote. Asked whether the school district had asked her to resign, she wrote: "I can tell you that I was glad to resign working for an employer that doesn't protect its employees, but puts them at risk."

There are conflicting accounts of what happened at Ptarmigan Elementary on May 3.

Sherwood on Friday emailed the Anchorage Daily News a five-page letter signed by her attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, and addressed to the municipal prosecutor in the now-closed criminal case. The letter is dated Sept. 24. Attached to the letter were notes written in support of Sherwood, including from parents of former students.

In Fitzgerald's letter, he argues that the charge against Sherwood should be dismissed for an exhaustive list of reasons. Fitzgerald wrote that the student had hit and pushed a classmate in art class, and again as they lined up to go to recess on the day of the alleged abuse. Sherwood asked the student to sit at his desk to cool off. He pushed and hit his classmate again, Fitzgerald wrote.

Sherwood decided the student would stay in for recess, but he wouldn't get out of the recess line. In the process of removing him from the line, he was disruptive, Fitzgerald wrote. At one point, he swung at Sherwood and she grabbed the shoulder of his sweatshirt to guide him out of line, Fitzgerald wrote. The student hit, kicked and spit at Sherwood, he wrote. At another point, Sherwood grabbed the student's upper arms to prevent him from hitting her and kept him at arm's length to avoid getting kicked, Fitzgerald wrote.

Sherwood has no prior criminal history. She was a teacher for more than 25 years and has no history of violence or aggressive conduct, Fitzgerald wrote. In each school she has taught, she has collaborated with the special education department.

Video footage captured on the day in question has not been released publicly. The criminal case did not go to trial.

According to the complaint, footage from Ptarmigan Elementary shows Sherwood escorting the student through the hall by his shoulder. The student was agitated and swinging his arms toward the teacher and pulling away, said the complaint. Sherwood pushed him into the wall and continued to escort him down the hallway, it said.

The student continued to fight against Sherwood, the complaint said. Sherwood let him go as several other students approached. The student was in an alcove near several large rolls of paper and Sherwood pushed him into a door "forcefully," the complaint said.

The student's mother, Katherine Armon, said Friday that she was told her son got into a verbal argument in art class, not a physical one. She said she was told he was later stepping on the back of a classmate's shoe, making the shoe come off. At one point, Sherwood had grabbed him by the shoulder of his sweatshirt, Armon said.

"If you pull on his hoodie he's going to think he's being choked and he will start to get defensive," she said.

Armon said her son started swinging at Sherwood. At one point, video footage showed Sherwood pushing her son "into a corner with excessive force," Armon said.

"That's the part where we really said, 'This is not OK, and we need this investigated,'" Armon said.

Armon said she was happy and relieved to hear that Sherwood had resigned.

"I think it's the right choice," she said.

She added: "Lynn was a great teacher, I don't know what caused her to lose her cool in that moment. I've made some mistakes in my life that I had to pay consequences for and unfortunately this is a situation that also had consequences."

Bishop said the school district was in the midst of its disciplinary process when Sherwood decided, on her own, to resign Friday. In Bishop's statement, she said the district's top priority is student safety.

"This individual's behavior is not reflective of the ASD staff, who act professionally and with the best interest of students in mind every day," Bishop said.


(c)2018 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)

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