BURLEY • A formal complaint regarding a Declo teacher’s treatment of students who failed reading goals has been filed with an Idaho commission on educators’ professional standards and ethics.

The Idaho State Department of Education’s Professional Standards Commission examines complaints against certified teachers and has the power to suspend or revoke teaching licenses.

Cassia County School District Superintendent Galen Smyer said Monday his district filed the complaint after fourth-grade teacher Summer Larsen allowed students to scribble with permanent marker on the faces of classmates who failed to meet reading goals.

“I’m really limited on what I can say because it’s a personnel issue,” Smyer said. “The investigation on this is also ongoing in the district.”

Smyer declined to name the teacher involved last week, citing personnel reasons, but parents of the students named Larsen.

Larsen did not return calls Monday from the Times-News.

Smyer said Larsen is still employed with the district, but would not confirm whether she was placed on administrative leave — again citing personnel matters.

On Nov. 5, Larsen allowed her students to determine an incentive for an Accelerated Reading goal. The incentive the class chose was to allow students who made the goal to mark on the faces of the students who did not meet the benchmark. The students who did not meet the goal could choose to forgo recess until the goal was obtained or allow classmates to scribble on their faces. Nine students failed to meet the goal and six of those chose to have their faces marked.

The activity occurred in the morning and students were forced to wear the markings for the rest of the day, including lunch and recess.

Melissa McGrath, ISDE spokeswoman, said the Professional Standards Commission’s 19 members are appointed by the State Board of Education to investigate complaints against teachers certified in the state.

McGrath said the commission meets five to six times a year.

“They investigate complaints and then take any necessary action if they find an individual has violated state ethics code,” she said.

McGrath said action can include suspension or revocation of a license.

“It’s a long process,” she said.

McGrath said once the commission makes a decision in a case, the information becomes public record.

Smyer said his district’s school board will be kept apprised of the investigation.

The board next meets at 7 p.m., Nov. 27. Smyer said Monday that the complaint will not be on the agenda.

“Even if it was discussed it would be a personnel issue and held in executive session (behind closed doors),” Smyer said.

The incident drew national attention and prompted an online petition to school board members to terminate Larsen’s employment. On Monday, there were 10 supporters. Eight of the names appeared publically on the website and all were from out of state.


(14) comments


Wouldn't it be prudent to have CID, Criminal Investigation Department, take a look at this also. Sounds like there maybe probable cause for Bullying or even a Battery? Sheriffs Office probably looked it over though, and decided it isn't criminal. Everybody knows everybody in a small community like that, might be wise to have an outside agency take a look at it?


Why stop there? Lets call in CSI, Crime Scene Investigation!

While I agree the teacher had a major lapse in judgment, I don't understand the people with all the torches that want to burn this lady at the stake. And obviously the nation wide attention has had a big impact, or at least the outside of the area is trying to influence what happens here which is evident in the last paragraph.


Bullying? Battery? You have to be kidding! You must be a person that is upset because Idaho voter's didn't allow the Luna Laws!


Ok let's play pretend for a second. Instead of being our president, Obama is a 4th grade teacher in Declo and he sends your kids home with these mark on their faces with their hearts broken from a day of torment. Still not a big deal?


How is this person even teaching with her criminal record? I might be mistaken but in my education classes this method of teaching or motivating or whatever you want to call it was never taught. I hope they run her out on a rail. Just imagine if it was your child that was made fun of all day and humiliated. Outside attention or not, this is wrong.


Summer Larsen is going to end up taking all the heat from this. But what about the principal who harassed some of the students after they were marked? What about the DARE officer who was in the school and saw these children and did nothing? What about the superintendent who has changed his statements? What about the parents supporting their children participating in this type of activity and fully support a teacher with a criminal record of violence? This is a sad situation.


Summer Larsen's background is relevant to this story. Were the parents of those 4th graders ever notified by the school that their children were in the care of someone recently convicted of battery? This link will take you to an online database of Idaho court records.
On the upper left is a button for "Name Search." Click on that, then search for Summer Larsen in Madison County. You'll see that she was arrested on January 14, 2012 and charged with battery. She was convicted on January 17, and sentenced to 180 days in jail. Of that sentence, 176 days is listed as discretionary, which should make you curious as to how she has been spending her weekends over the past several months.

Summer Larsen is certainly not the only person responsible in all of this, but she was the first grownup who was supposed to protect those kids. Given her criminal record and the nature of her crime, the principal should never have allowed her back in a classroom. Now that a problem has occurred, anything short of the termination of Ms. Larsen, a strenuous repudiation of what happened, a unequivocal apology from the principal and a thorough plan of action to change things will be inadequate.


I might add that if the Times News and other local media outlets had real reporters doing their jobs, the background information about Ms. Larsen's battery conviction would have already been part of this story. It's public information and it's right there in online databases.

Soothsayer - we were aware of the misdemeanor domestic battery conviction. As this is a classroom ethics/professional conduct issue and not a case of violence toward children, and as the school district's hiring policy only deals with felony offenses, we did not feel it was appropriate to include in our reporting. Thanks for your question.


At the very least, the conviction shows that the teacher has serious issues with conflict resolution and proper boundaries.


If the school district only makes a distinction between misdemeanors and felonies when hiring, the policy is seriously flawed. The ultimate conviction may have been a misdemeanor, but it was for a violent crime. Similarly, something like tax evasion can be a felony, but being convicted of it wouldn't indicate a risk to the physical well being of ten-year-olds.


I appreciate the response, Nate, and point taken. In terms of what is newsworthy, however, I think the old journalistic technique of "Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?" makes this information a highly relevant part of the story. Who is this teacher who sanctioned and supervised this kind of behavior among her students? What kind of a person is she? I would submit that most of your readers would think this is a valid angle to include. There are some people out there who specifically don't want these details to be part of the news. Whenever that happens, it's a strong indication that they should be included. Does the school district's hiring policy dictate what you see as newsworthy? There can't possibly be a legal concern about reporting something that is public information, made available by the state to anyone who cares to look. If you see part of your role as encouraging community harmony and supporting the status quo, that might have some merit as a business decision, but it's a compromise of your journalistic integrity. The basic question is whether people would want to know this part of the story. It's hard to imagine that the answer is no.

Valid points, but there's one more factor here - there's also a need to be responsible with the information we find. Just because someone is in the news, does it merit every action they've ever taken being paraded out in the public spotlight? It's always a judgment call, especially in the initial reporting, which is what you've had so far. In most criminal cases, we'll include more context. But when writing profiles of candidates in the recent election, we chose to focus on financial, felony and other serious offenses in a candidate's background, but not that one parking ticket they got back in 1994.

Either way, it's good to have this conversation and I appreciate the questions you're bringing up. Keep this in mind the next time you want to snark about "real reporters," that if you have issues with the way something is being reported we're more than happy to talk.

In terms of who this teacher is and what may have led to her actions, just because we haven't answered every question yet doesn't mean we're not putting together more stories. Watch the paper ;)


Unless I missed it, another very important issue in this case that has not been mentioned may be toxic chemicals.


Many permanent markers contain poisonous chemicals that are easily absorbed through the skin. The cleaning material(s) used to remove the ink could also have been very toxic.


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