EAST LYNNE, Mo. – Seven of 10 classroom teachers in a tiny school district resigned after a colleague was fired for helping an 11-year-old girl who was left alone in a playground to pick up rocks as punishment.
The fourth-grader in the East Lynne School District in Cass County was assigned the task last September for refusing to do her schoolwork, but she was unsupervised except for a security camera. The playground was near a road but inside a fence.
The fired teacher, Christa Price, went to the principal -- who is also the district superintendent -- and asked him to reconsider the punishment, but he wouldn't. So on her free period, Price helped the girl pick up rocks. Other teachers watched the girl the next day.
At contract time in March, Superintendent Dan Doerhoff recommended firing Price, a popular teacher who had had good performance evaluations, for insubordination. Seven other teachers then chose not to return their contracts.
"If a teacher who advocates on behalf of safety of a student is not fit to be a teacher at East Lynne or anywhere in Missouri according to this administration, then none of us are fit to teach at East Lynne," the teachers who resigned said Tuesday in a statement.
One of the teachers who resigned, Jenny Neemann, said having a security camera on the area where the girl worked wasn't enough.
"Somebody could have nabbed her in 10 seconds," she said.
Doerhoff has since dropped the practice of rock punishment because of the uproar, but he insists it wasn't that strenuous. The rocks were left over from some drilling work.
The school district has already filled most of the jobs left vacant because of the resignations, Doerhoff said Wednesday.
The girl, whose name was not released, told The Kansas City Star that the assignment "made me feel like a slave." Her mother said she and her husband had agreed to the rock-gathering punishment, which was the only alternative Doerhoff gave them to suspension.
"I love this woman," the mother said of Price. "What happened to Christa is beyond belief."
Doerhoff also refused to sign the certification renewal that Price needs to get another teaching job, saying doing so would have been inconsistent and "could put me in a pickle."
Jim Morris, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the department's Kansas City-area supervisor has offered to speak to certification officials on Price's behalf.
Price said she doesn't regret challenging Doerhoff.
"The first thing I told her when I went out there was, `Don't fill the bucket so full,"' Price said.