Teacher suspended for making students trace words on sandpaper

9:15 AM, Jan 29, 2013   |    comments
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BRANDON, Florida -- Teachers try to find ways to get kids to learn, but one Hillsborough teacher's method led to a bloody finger and a suspension.

"[It] felt like it was burning every time I touched something," says 11-year-old Josh Sommer. The 6th grader says a scabbed fingertip is the result of a class assignment given by his language arts teacher.

"We had to spell words a bunch of times," says Josh. The words were traced out on 60 grit sandpaper, coarse enough for heavy sanding and stripping. The square piece of sandpaper is stained with Josh's blood.

He says he and some of his classmates complained to the teacher, Anna Garrett. "Our fingers hurt. We are bleeding. She said, 'Sit down and be quiet.'"

The Burns Middle School teacher is suspended with pay while the school district and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigates.

Steve Hegarty with the Hillsborough School District says, "We do encourage teachers to think out of the box, do things more innovative, but if it's something that hurts students, clearly we would discourage it. We in no way consider that a way to teach vocabulary words."

The assignment called for students to spell out each word five times each day for five days in a row. Did the activity teach Josh how to correctly spell the words? "No," he says. "It makes my finger bleed and hurt."

Josh's mom says, "It makes me feel sad and disgusted this could happen at school where we send our children, thinking they are supposed to be safe. This isn't safe." 

We checked Garrett's personnel file. Her most recent available evaluation rates her "satisfactory." But in 2001, school district officials say she received a letter of caution for throwing a soft shoe at a student. She tells 10 News she will not comment until she speaks to her union representative.

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