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Video shows substitute teacher in Denver forcibly trying to remove student from a classroom

DPS reviewing incident involving substitute teacher
Posted at 6:36 PM, May 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-16 22:04:20-04

DENVER -- Denver Public Schools is investigating an incident where a substitute teacher at Hamilton Middle School reportedly tried to forcibly remove a student from a classroom, putting an arm around his neck at one point.

The 14-second clip, obtained by Denver7 from a student who was in the classroom, shows the teacher pushing the student toward the door. The student is seen pushing back and trying to stop himself from being forced out of the room while telling the teacher, “Get off of me.”

The teacher, meanwhile, is heard telling the student not to touch him. The video appears to show the teacher pushing the student's arm down before the seventh-grader fell to the floor.

The teacher then tells the class to call the school’s security guard. It is not clear what led up to the altercation.

The school’s principal, Dr. Christian Sawyer, sent a letter home to parents Wednesday saying they are looking into the incident and that the substitute teacher will not be returning to school until that review is completed.

Denver Public Schools spokesperson Anna Alejo sent this statement to Denver7 about the incident:

“We notified the school community that the substitute teacher will not be returning while the incident is under review. We’ve been focused on supporting Hamilton students and families, gathering the facts and reviewing what happened. We’re now working diligently to investigate the incident. We’re committed to providing learning environments where all students are treated with dignity and respect. We don’t permit any practice that puts the physical safety and emotional well-being of any of our kids at risk. When challenging incidents happen in our schools, it is important that we handle them with thought and care.”

However, this is not the first incident at Hamilton Middle School in recent weeks. Naisha Williams is the president of the Parent-Teacher Association for the school. She says her 6th grade daughter has been bullied at school. Last month, things escalated when her daughter was involved in a fight and was injured.

“It just seems like there’s a lot of fights and bullying going on at that school that the administration is not taking seriously,” Williams said.

When Williams went to pick her daughter up from the school, she noticed that a large chunk of her daughter’s hair had been ripped out during the fight.

Williams said her daughter suffered from a concussion from the altercation and had to be taken to Swedish Medical Center for treatment.

“We go through therapy every single week. She still suffering,” Williams said. “I just want to keep this from happening to someone else’s child.”

Williams filed a report with Denver Police about the incident and has met with the school several times to discuss the altercation. She was told the school is investigating the incident.

“The security guard took a picture for an investigation for the school. She turned around and then took a picture and put it on her personal Snapchat,” Williams said.

A copy of the Snapchat image obtained by Denver7 has text over it that reads: "These kids snatch the soul out of her braids #NewJobPlease."

Williams says she received a call from an administrator at the school acknowledging the incident and saying it would be discussed.

“Here is my daughter being bullied. She got into a fight and a person who is supposed to be in a position of trust betrays that trust and is still working,” Williams said. “It goes into that culture that’s in the school.”

When her daughter returned to class, Williams went to school with her the first day and sat in on the classes.

“After the first grade class while switching classes there was a fight in the hallway,” she said. “By Thursday a little boy was hit in the head by a glass bottle.”

Williams says a safety plan was put in place for her daughter and that the child was told to talk to a teacher if the other student started bothering her again. However, Williams says the bullying has continued, her daughter has told teachers and it was not being addressed.

That’s when she decided to pull her daughter out of school for her safety.

“I’ve had to basically home-school my daughter for the last two weeks of school because it’s not a safe environment, and I want parents to know about the culture that’s going on there,” she said. “My daughter doesn’t want to be at home, she wants to be at school.”

For now, her daughter is completing the remainder of class work at home since there are only a few weeks left until summer break. Next year though, her daughter will be attending not only a different school but a different district as well.

“I blame the administration at that school because the administration is not taking responsibility, they’re not handling situations and are pushing things underneath the rug hoping that it will go away and, in the meantime, our children are not getting their education,” she said.

Williams says she understands that kids will sometimes fight but that it was the district’s handling of her daughter’s case that made her decide to leave Hamilton.

“It was disheartening. I felt like you guys betrayed my trust. I fought for the school being part of the PTA. I fought for the school and for me to be this letdown and cast aside like it doesn’t even matter, it hurts and I’m angry,” Williams said.

Despite all of this, Williams said she respects the teachers at the school and believes they do excellent work in educating students. One of the reasons she chose Hamilton for her children was because of test scores at the school.

However, she says the teachers are not getting the support they need and when they send a problematic student to the office to be disciplined, she believes the child is being sent back to class without anything being done.

Denver Public Schools sent a separate statement to Denver7 about the incident involving Williams’ daughter that reads:

“We have been reviewing the concerns raised regarding the Campus Safety Officer but are unable to provide additional information, as personnel information is confidential and this matter also implicates student privacy rights.

"Improving school-wide culture and building an inclusive environment that welcomes and creates a safe school for all students is a focus of Hamilton’s leadership team. The school’s faculty work every day to push forward in this important work. This year, Hamilton built out a series of social-emotional lessons and programs for students, specifically focused on positive culture and ending bullying. The school closely monitors culture and behavior trends, and this reporting has resulted in a decrease in school bullying. Reports of bullying are down 17% compared to last year, which indicates important progress.

"This year, Hamilton has increased funding and positions to improve school culture, including 3 Deans of School Culture (1 per grade level), 3 Restorative Practice Coordinators (1 per grade level), and sustaining two full time counselors, two full time social workers, and a part-time school psychologist.”