Mountain View Voice
News - March 20, 2009
Parents up in arms over 'abusive' teacher
by Casey Weiss
Mountain View parents say they are fed up with a fourth grade teacher at Huff Elementary School who they claim is not being disciplined by the district despite numerous complaints of abuse and misconduct.
The parents say students in Patty Polifrone's class are scared to go because she often ridicules or yells at them. They say numerous parents have filed complaints against Polifrone dating back to when she was a teacher at Slater School several years ago.
The complaints may already have come to a head, however, since Stephanie Totter, the Mountain View Whisman School District's director of administrative services, "escorted Polifrone off the Huff campus" earlier this month, the parents said. With rumors now circulating that Polifrone will return to the classroom this week, they say the district should terminate her once and for all or they will take the matter to the school board.
According to parents, administrators told families only that Polifrone is on personal leave and will resume teaching soon. They say the class has had a substitute teacher in the interim.
Totter reportedly returned to Huff last week to interview students in groups of three about the allegations. Because Polifrone has tenure, the parents say, it is difficult for the district to discipline her appropriately. She was transferred from Slater to Huff after parents tried to take legal action against her there, they added.
Polifrone was not immediately available for comment. District administrators referred all questions about Polifrone to Totter, who replied by e-mail, saying only: "Tenured teachers have significant due process rights. This covers every tenured teacher in the state. It is inappropriate to comment on any particular employee."
Four parents contacted the Voice about Polifrone — some with children in her class, others whose children have taken Polifrone's class in the past and whose younger children will start fourth grade at Huff in the fall. All but one, Christine Fortes, said they were afraid Polifrone would punish their children if they spoke on the record.
"This abuse has done so much damage to so many students and no one seems to want to do anything to take action," Fortes said in an e-mail to the Voice.
All of the parents had similar stories about Polifrone: They said she targeted students for ridicule, discussed her personal life in class, and insulted the principal, other teachers and the U.S. president in front of students. Overall, they said, their children lost interest in school while in her class. Fortes says her daughter's test scores dropped from the 90th percentile to the 40th.
"My son was scared to go to school," one parent told the Voice. "I do not see her as a good role model for children."
"Before he used to be an excellent reader," said another parent, who currently has a son in Polifrone's class. "Now he doesn't read."
All four parents said they complained to Polifrone about her behavior, and filed complaints with the principal and then with district administrators, but were told their only option was to transfer schools. Several parents did eventually transfer their children.
One mother said that after talking to Polifrone about an inappropriate comment made in class, the teacher told the student, "You shouldn't have your mom fight your battles. Grow up!"
She said she spent $900 on therapy on her child, who went from being "a happy, studious, well-behaved student to a worried, self-deprecating boy that hates school."
Polifrone allegedly told one parent volunteer that "When I yell, they get it better than when I speak to them nicely. I like to nip it in the bud."
When Polifrone was teaching at Slater one of her students brought a tape recorder to school because he had trouble taking notes. He would replay it at night and review what he learned in school. After hearing Polifrone on the tape, his parents hired a lawyer, but the case never went to court.
Parents say they hope this time the district will take action.
"I can't believe they haven't done anything," Fortes said.
E-mail Casey Weiss at email@example.com
Posted by Salem Witch Trials?,
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 23, 2009 at 10:19 pm
Can you say Salem Witch Trials? It seems like one person/parent makes an accusation and everyone jumps on the bandwagon/witch hunt.
Does anyone remember the McMartin pre-school trial in the early 1990s? The McMartin's were falsely accused, by one hysterical parent, of molesting a child. Many parents jumped on the bandwagon once the first accusation was made. The McMartin's were arrested and jailed while awaiting trial. Raymond Buckey spent five years in jail and his mom spent two and a half years in jail for what? Teaching and caring for children. The McMartin's lost their pre-school and their livelihoods because of false accusations. No one was found guilty and no evidence was found to back-up the claims of molestation. The pre-school was torn down to look for the alleged tunnels and secret rooms where children were allegedly molested, but nothing was found.
The trial was based on false accusations started by a woman who was mentally unstable. This woman had accused others, famous people not affiliated with the pre-school, with molestation too. Unfortunately, too many people were willing to jump to conclusions and destroy good people based on misinformation and/or assumptions.
No one paid the McMartin's for what they lost. The hardest thing to get back was their reputation once it had been sullied.
I do not know Patty Polifrone, but I do know that many students are out of control. Schools will not expel students regardless of their behavior and/or lack of performance. Schools will not retain students who do not do their work (flunk), so teachers inherit misbehaving students who cannot read, write, or do math. Moreover, if teachers resort to yelling, then we think teachers are abusive.
When I was in school, I learned the most from my "meanest" teachers. They had control of their classrooms, they had terrific lessons, and they were not afraid to put a student in his place. If I told my mom a teacher yelled at me, she would have said, "What did you do?!" I would have been punished and not the teacher.
Many bright, enthusiastic, excellent teachers leave the profession every year because the students are so out of control!
I have no doubt that Ms. Polifrone's students yell, scream, cuss, and try everything that they can to disrupt her classes. If Polifrone needs to yell at the students to get them under control, then good for her. I wish Ms. Polifrone and all teachers had the power to expel disruptive, unproductive students.
One mom was quoted in the article stating that Ms. Poliforne told her son, "You shouldn't have your mom fight your battles. Grow up!" The mom claimed her son needed therapy because of that encounter. The incident probably was not the first time the student had his mom "fight his battles." If the comment by Ms. Polifrone caused her son to go to therapy, then Ms. Polifrone is correct…he needs to grow up. Furthermore, if one comment by Ms. Polifrone caused her son to go to therapy, then the boy's problems run much deeper than Ms. Polifrone.
One parent claims her daughter lost interest in reading after the fourth grade. This should not be a news flash, but many students lose interest in school in or after the fourth grade. Students become more interested in beauty, the opposite sex, being cool, etc., and they lose interest in school.
Why is it that one so-called "bad" teacher can do so much damage, but many good teachers, year after year, cannot make any headway with misbehaving, lazy, unproductive students?
A fellow teacher was disciplined for telling a student, "Get your butt in your seat." If he had said, "Please sit down," the class probably would have laughed at him, the student probably would have said, "F… you," and the teacher would have been perceived as weak or a pushover. Why shouldn't teachers be allowed to yell and discipline unruly students? Have students become the new untouchables? Students can do no wrong?
One mother claimed that Ms. Polifrone pushed her daughter when her daughter walked into Ms. Polifrone's classroom, before Ms. Polifrone had dismissed the class. Why would a student walk into a teacher's classroom without permission and before the class was over? Didn't the girl learn any respect or manners? It is disrespectful and it disrupts learning to have students wander in whenever they feel like it. Often, if a teacher asks a student to wait outside until the class is over, the student starts arguing with the teacher. Many teachers lock their doors to avoid this unnecessary disruption and so they can end their classes promptly and properly. I don't know if Ms. Polifrone pushed anyone or if she gently guided the rude girl out of her classroom.
Many students have no respect for rules or authority. We have empowered students to believe the world revolves around them and they do not have to obey laws/rules or respect anyone. The lack of respect and lack of following rules has been disastrous for our schools and our society.
Ms. Polifrone probably wishes she did not have to yell in order to get her class under control. She probably loves teaching, but spends most of her time on discipline. I suspect that Ms. Polifrone is trying everything in her power to motivate her students and help them learn.
I challenge anyone in the community to teach for one week in the Mountain View Whisman schools.
Michael Lewis wrote a book called Coach. In the book, Michael describes a wonderful, high school, baseball coach who had winning teams. His former players wanted to build a new gym dedicated to him. The current players and parents were against dedicating anything to the coach. The current players and parents said that the coach is "mean" and "abusive" because he yells at his players and the workouts are too intense. The parents wanted the school to fire the coach. The coach had to tone down his behavior because it offended the current parents and players. The team is no longer a winning team it is a whining team.
What the parents did not realize is that the "old" coach helped his players mature into responsible young men.
Why can't we hold the students accountable? Why can't teachers yell at misbehaving, unruly, insubordinate students? We have become a nation of wimps and whiners and that is part of the reason our economy and country are in the toilet.