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Gorham teacher placed on leave for giving student a jacknife to use in class skit

Union Leader Correspondent

March 29. 2018 10:15AM
 (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

This is the knife brought to school by a Gorham High School teacher and placed in a student's belongings as part of a lesson on the Fourth Amendment. (COURTESY)

GORHAM — A social studies teacher remains on paid administrative leave but will not face criminal charges in connection with a classroom skit at Gorham Middle-High School in which he gave a knife to a student.

The announcement by Gorham Police Chief P.J. Cyr on Wednesday was criticized by Robert Balon, the father of the 17-year old GMHS junior. Balon said his son had unwittingly and reluctantly participated in the March 14 skit, the aim of which was to educate students about the Fourth Amendment.

“Chief Cyr is not fulfilling his duty and is failing the kids in the schools,” said Balon, adding that “from the facts here, he’s being biased in this case.”

Balon said he wanted to see his son’s teacher charged, at the minimum, with endangering the welfare of a child.

But Cyr, after interviewing 11 students, all of whom confirmed that they did not feel endangered during the skit, said the only charge he could bring was disorderly conduct.

Even that charge fell apart, Cyr said, when he concluded that “no disorder” was created by the skit, something he believes Coos County Attorney John McCormick will agree with.

Paul Bousquet, superintendent for School Administrative Unit 20, said he could not identify the teacher because the matter involves a personnel issue.

SAU 20 has a weapons policy that bans all knives, said Bousquet.

“There shouldn’t be any weapons in school,” he said. As to a teacher handing a student a knife, “you just don’t do that.”

The teacher did not give advance notice to him or any other school officials of the March 14 skit; if he had, Bousquet said he would have forbidden it.

According to police, the teacher approached Balon’s son and asked him to participate in the skit, which would include a knife.

The teacher gave the closed knife — a bi-fold tactical model with a 3.5-inch blade — to Balon’s son outside the classroom and asked him to come back into class with the knife, still in the closed position, in his left pant pocket.

When Balon’s son entered the classroom, the teacher observed Balon’s son transfer the knife, still closed, from his pocket to his lunchbox. He then mock-confronted the student, which led into a discussion about the Fourth Amendment and which searches and seizures are constitutional.

The 15 other students in Balon’s son’s class did not know in advance that what they were observing was staged drama, police and school officials said.

Balon said his son was “terrified of the situation” he was placed in by the teacher. and faced possible assault by staff and students at GMHS because of the heightened vigilance at schools across the country.

He noted that the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate (ALICE) program teaches students and educators faced with an imminent threat to use force to save themselves and others.

His son wasn’t physically injured, Balon said, “but it hasn’t been easy for him. It’s changed his life.”

Balon said of his son’s teacher: “He’s negligent, he’s reckless, there’s no excuse. He went rogue.”

Balon said he may seek a protective order against the teacher. He has already asked the school district for video footage of the March 14 skit and of police interviews with his son. Balson said Gorham officers told his son more than once that what the teacher did was a chargeable offense.

Bousquet said the teacher has informed the school district that he is not renewing his contract to return to Gorham Middle-High School this fall.

Public Safety Education Gorham

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