Two Teachers Ordered a Girl to do Push-Ups for Talking in Class. Now They’re on Trial in Fresno County.
What is sure to be a sensational civil trial over student discipline has begun in Fresno County, where attorneys for a young girl say she was subjected to PTSD-inducing humiliation three years ago when a fourth grade teacher ordered her to do push-ups for talking in class.
The girl, who was around 9 years old at the time, is being represented by Fresno attorney Jason Helsel. The plaintiff is seeking damages for negligence, negligent teacher training, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Fresno attorney Bruce Berger is representing the Fresno Unified School District, as well as Slater Elementary School teachers Michelle Coyne and Joshua Gehris.
During opening statements last week, Helsel called the two elementary teachers “bullies” for their decision to discipline the young girl by forcing her to do exercises in front of her classmates. When she couldn’t get the push-ups portion of the exercise correct, she was yelled at according to her lawyer. Gehris, a military veteran, then demanded she do leg lifts, planks and other maneuvers. The ordeal lasted about five to seven minutes, Helsel told the jury, “but to her, it felt like a lifetime.”
The plaintiff’s lawyer says the incident left her emotionally scarred and withdrawn from her peers. Her mother found out about the incident that night and immediately demanded her daughter be moved to another class, which she was. The mother then began taking her to a mental health professional who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress and an anxiety disorder.
The attorney for the district, Bruce Berger, says state law allows teachers great leeway in determining the best course of action for students who act up in class. The nature of the exercises is also being misrepresented, he said. Kids’ misbehavior is often due to pent up energy and the push-ups and leg lifts were a means to burn off that extra energy. Plenty of other students have had do the same, he added, but none have complained. Furthermore, Berger says the student could not be suffering PTSD as a result of the incident because her life was not threatened.
The school district hired a physician to examine the girl after the incident. That physician determined that she does suffer from an anxiety disorder, but that it is not related to the 2016 incident.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Read more at the Fresno Bee.