MONCKS CORNER — Berkeley Middle School teacher Lori Teuton says she wants to go back to her classroom, but not if it means compromising her safety.
On Monday, the 12-year teaching veteran put her career in jeopardy by refusing to return to a class where a student threatened to "cut me with a knife," she said. School administrators have declined to transfer the student out of the class.
"I'm not sure why they are not honoring the request of a teacher to feel safe," said Teuton, who is in her second year at the school and teaches eighth-grade English and language arts.
Pam Bailey, public relations director for the Berkeley County School District, said Monday that Teuton remains on staff and that the district has properly followed its procedures in dealing with the teacher's complaint. But for now, Teuton is refusing to return to work.
The dispute began in November. Teuton said the student, a 13-year-old girl, was frequently disruptive. After she sent the student for discipline, Teuton said, the teenager returned to the classroom and told another student, "let's just cut her with a knife."
The comment was loud enough that Teuton could hear it. At first, she said she wondered whether the student was reciting song lyrics, but Teuton decided the threat was real.
When nothing was done about the student's actions and Teuton's attempts to get her removed were unsuccessful, she filed a grievance with the school. A meeting has not been held yet on that grievance, and Teuton said she wants her lawyer present.
Teuton was put on leave with pay Wednesday. On Friday, she received a letter from Principal Lee Westbury telling her to return to work Monday.
Westbury's letter also said a school investigation into the incident failed to confirm that the student actually made the threat. Other students who supposedly witnessed the incident were confused by Teuton's allegations, Westbury said, and the teacher's initial report on the incident was sketchy.
Westbury also questioned why the teacher had not contacted the girl's parents about the disciplinary problems.
Teuton stayed home Monday. Her attorney, Larry Kobrovsky, who has represented teachers with classroom safety complaints, also said the student's actions need to be addressed before the case can be resolved.
"When a student threatens a teacher with bodily harm, it's a crime," he said.
Teuton said Monday she has no immediate plans to return.
"I think it's just a basic that the teacher should expect, and that the students should expect, that teachers should be safe," she said. "We just can't take these things lightly in this day and age."