Washington teacher punishes student, class pelts her with Koosh balls

STEVENSON, Wash. - A 15-year-old girl shouts in pain in a classroom in shocking video uncovered by KATU's On Your Side Investigators. It's one of two videos that show students being pelted with Koosh balls at a local high school under the direction of a chemistry teacher.

The teacher, Kem Patteson, was put on administrative leave from her job at Stevenson High School in Skamania County.

In a cell phone video reportedly shot in Patteson's classroom in May, a boy cowers in a corner with a book over his face as students pelt him with Koosh balls. Students say it's a punishment that Patteson has been doling out for at least the past two years.

In another video shot last week, a voice identified as Patteson's can be heard directing students. This time Zoey Zapfe, a 15-year-old sophomore, says she was being punished.

"I was chewing gum in class," Zapfe said. "She looked over and she told me to spin the wheel and that's like a normal thing."

Zapfe says when she spun the so-called "wheel of misfortune" Patteson kept in class, it landed on "cush firing squad". After that, Zapfe says nearly 30 students and Patteson, a former semi-pro baseball player, lined up to take turns hitting her with a Koosh ball. Zapfe says it hurt.

"I clearly said that I didn't want to do this, and after that I found out that you can opt out with a lunch detention," Zapfe said, "and when I said I don't want to do this, she said 'too bad 'or something and I got pelted."

KATU obtained the videos with the help of the local newspaper, the Skamania County Pioneer.

"I'm gonna be honest," Zapfe said regarding Patteson, "I'm hoping she gets fired because it was beyond humiliating."

Dan Read, superintendent of the Stevenson-Carson School District, says administrators didn't see the latest video until this week. They decided to pull Patteson out of the classroom Thursday evening.

KATU tried emailing and Facebook messaging Patteson but as of the time this story was published she had not responded.

On Tuesday, KATU obtained a copy of a letter from Read to parents saying Patterson had been reinstated:

Dear Stevenson High School Parents:

As you may know, we've been working with a third-party investigator to review the details of a video that surfaced on social media last week. The situation called to light an inappropriate classroom management technique used by a Stevenson High School teacher. It involved giving students the choice of spinning a "Wheel of Misfortune" for low-level misconduct rather than getting lunch detention. The consequences on the wheel included allowing other students in the classroom to throw a soft rubber "Koosh" ball at the student. The videos circulating showed students throwing the ball at a student.

This is not a practice authorized or condoned by the District and it has been stopped. When the high school became aware of the details of how the controversial classroom management tool was being used, the prop was removed from the classroom. The teacher was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

First and foremost, our District aims to make sure that only high quality instruction occurs in the classroom and that our students are treated with respect. Our primary goal is to provide students with optimal conditions for learning by maintaining a school environment where everyone is engaged and positive. We all have learned from this unfortunate circumstance and I want to assure you, it is our top priority to carefully review classroom management techniques and provide sensitivity training.

As required by the new Teacher Principal Evaluation Project, we evaluate all of our teachers' classroom instructional practices using rigorous criteria. We expect the best of our teachers and that they model only the best practices and behaviors.

On Wednesday, October 15th, the results of the investigation were provided to us. After interviews with students, school staff and the teacher, the investigator recommended that the teacher be re-instated to the classroom with appropriate safeguards in place to ensure an appropriate classroom environment. The investigator concluded that the use of the wheel was inappropriate, but well-intentioned, and the teacher did not desire to embarrass, intimidate or harm any student. However, poor judgment by any teacher is concerning and we plan to work with the teacher on more positive and productive classroom management skills going forward.
We understand some parents may still have concerns, and we ask that you please contact us directly so we can address your questions and discuss options. I want to thank parents, staff and community members for their support, patience and understanding as we work through this challenge and work together in a positive, productive way.

Read originally sent KATU the following statement:

"Our first priority is the safety of students. The Stevenson-Carson School District strives to provide students with optimal conditions for learning by maintaining a school environment where everyone is treated with respect and no one is physically or emotionally harmed.
Therefore, we take any type of reported bullying very seriously and begin investigating the situation immediately.

The SCSD District Office received a formal complaint on Thursday, October 9th that one of our high school teachers was using a controversial classroom management technique that has been construed as inappropriate and a reported form of bullying.

We take any matter of concern voiced by parents and students seriously. When the high school initially became aware of the incident at hand, it was dealt with in a prompt manner by the school principal.

The district has secured a third party investigator with the assistance of our district personnel office to look into the complaint. In the meantime, the teacher has been placed on administrative leave.

The SCSD provides a safe and nurturing environment for all children. If you have any questions or concerns regarding what is happening in your child's school, please don't hesitate to contact the district office."

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