Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0116teacher-ON.html

State investigating teacher accused of hitting students
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 16, 2004 07:45 PM
Anne Ryman and Ofelia Madrid

Parents expressed outrage Friday over the possibility that an Ingleside Middle School teacher hit their children for speaking Spanish in class instead of English.

The teacher told school district investigators that she was enforcing the district's English immersion program and did not intend to injure the children. Eight children told police that teacher Kim Youngblood, 52, hit or slapped them. Some of the children told police their arms or hands were sore afterward.

"Her job is to teach the students, not to hit them," said Antonio Montes, 42, whose 13-year-old daughter, Maria, told investigators she was slapped on the shoulder. "It doesn't matter what the teacher's motive was," said the girl's father.

Maria Montes said that Youngblood slapped her when she asked a classmate a question during class.

Maria said on Friday that she stayed quiet until class was over, then showed her friends the red mark on her shoulder.

On Thursday, the Scottsdale School Board moved to fire Youngblood, who teaches students who are learning English at the east Phoenix school. She has 30 days to appeal the decision or she loses her job. She has been on leave from her job since a parent reported the incident in April 2003.

Youngblood did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

"I assure you she did not hit any child, ever, in her life," said the teacher's mother, Viola Youngblood, who answered the phone at her daughter's Paradise Valley house.

She said her daughter is a strong disciplinarian, but the furthest she will go is to tap a child on the shoulder who is running late for class.

"That's the extent of it," she said.

Meanwhile, the Arizona State Board of Education is investigating Kim Youngblood for possible violations of state law. The board, which oversees teacher licenses, can take disciplinary actions ranging from a letter of reprimand to revoking teaching credentials in Arizona.

Arizona Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne said it is correct for a teacher to insist that students speak only English in class, but it is wrong to hit them.

"If a teacher hits students for speaking Spanish, the teacher should be fired," Horne said. "However, I have no way of knowing whether the teacher is innocent or guilty."

The controversy ignited debate on talk radio Friday, including stations such as Newsradio 620 KTAR, where callers argued how far teachers can go in disciplining students.

The League of United Latin American Citizens condemned the teacher's actions.

"This is like back in the '50s where they used to hit the students for speaking Spanish," said Silverio Garcia, LULAC's education chairman. "It sounds like we've gone around the block, but we really haven't gone anywhere really."

In interviews with district officials, Youngblood described the physical contact as "a gentle touch on the shoulders or a tap on the wrist." She is suing the school district for malicious prosecution, conspiracy and libel. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to file charges against her last year when the issue surfaced.

State law allows teachers to use physical force only to the extent that it is appropriate to maintain order or defend themselves or others.

One 12-year-old boy, who was speaking Spanish to his friend in class said Youngblood hit him on the shoulder and yelled: "You can't speak Spanish or you won't learn to speak English."

Samara Mosqueda, 13, told investigators that Youngblood slapped her on the shoulder.

She and her friends discussed telling the principal, but they were afraid, she said Friday.

"We didn't want to get in trouble," Samara said. "What if she denied it, and it's our word against a teacher's?"

Samara's mother, Sarai Jaimes, 33, said the school notified her shortly afterward of the problems.

"They go to school to learn," Sarai Jaimes said. "The teacher doesn't have a right to hit them."

This is the second time the Scottsdale School Board has moved to fire a teacher for using force against students.

In 2002, Arcadia High School teacher Carol Seror lost her job after slapping a student who she said cut her off in traffic. The altercation took place in the school parking lot before classes started for the day. Seror, then 50, argued that she reacted in self-defense after the student cursed at her and gestured for her to leave. The board later fired Seror after reviewing the evidence.

Reporter Judi Villa contributed to this story. Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com (602) 444-6881