Question: Is It OK To Put Duct Tape Over A Disruptive Student's Mouth?

One substitute teacher in Lafayette, LA did just that, and now she's facing charges of battery. What do you think?

What do you do if you're an elementary school teacher, and a student will not stop disrupting your class? 

The days when such a student could face a paddling or a dunce cap are long gone. 

But one substitute teacher in Lafayette, LA used an approach that got her in trouble with the parent of a disruptive student, and got her chewed out by school administrators: she put duct tape over the student's mouth. According to the student's mom, he was so upset over the incident that he didn't discuss it for a week, and doesn't want to return to school. And now the mom is seeking criminal battery charges. 

As a former student who had, um, issues with voicing opinions in class even when the teacher was not seeking opinions, I can sympathize with the kid. It's not always easy to contain yourself in the midst of a hyper-stimulating environment, especially when you're just learning those skills. And it's very embarrassing to have the teacher tape your mouth shut. I would have wanted to crawl into a hole.

As the father of five, however, I'm not sure I disagree with the teacher's approach. If the boy is not being respectful, if he's not shutting up when he's told repeatedly to do so, if he's taking learning time away from the class, then what? Send him to the principal's office? Put him in a corner? 

As the spouse of a teacher, I hear a lot of stories about kids who don't always behave appropriately, and how little teachers can do these days to prevent such behavior. Many parents these days do seem to hold the teacher, rather than the student, responsible for the behaviors (and grades) of their offspring. 

Perhaps duct taping his mouth is not the most elegant of solutions. It did no physical damage, at least none that was reported. It certainly caused him some serious social discomfort - whether that is ultimately a good thing is, I suppose, the question here. 

Personally, I think the teacher acted a little harshly. Fourth grade kids are sensitive creatures, and they're learning what is ok and what is not. Maybe stand the kid up in front of the class and make him sing the National Anthem. Or recite a poem. Or have him get up and try to teach. But I can also sympathize with the teacher, who was having her job highjacked by an uncooperative kid who wanted to steal the attention of her class. I have certainly been tempted to duct tape my kids' mouths at one point or another. 

Do you think the teacher did the right thing? Tell us in the comments. 

Jan Robitscher September 20, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Never. I experienced that in second grade and still have the memory of it.
Jan Robitscher September 20, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Never. I experienced this in second grade and still have the memory of it. The teacher acted more than "a little harshly". She was totally out of line.
Marshall Cochrane September 20, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Well, the nuns that taught me never used duct tape but the ruler or pointer administered to palms up would go far in keeping my mouth shut...and when I came home if I told my mother about it she would have my father spank my butt for acting up class...
Jim Caroompas (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 05:57 PM
I had my own run-ins with principals and their paddles. . .
Chris Kapsalis September 20, 2012 at 06:04 PM
You could kill a person by duck taping their mouth by suffication easy. Over the mouth even and a plugged nose you will die. Or by covering both mouth and nose with tape. This is a crime.
Jim Caroompas (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Thank you, Chris.
Jim Caroompas (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I assumed it wasn't necessary to say this, but let me be clear: the question hinges on the teacher's intent to teach the student a lesson, not to kill him or her. So can we assume in this instance that the teacher is cogent enough not to duct tape the mouth of a student who can't breathe through their nose, and certainly cogent enough not to close off the student's nasal passages simultaneously? Chris is correct - the result of those actions would clearly be homicide, and that is probably too harsh a punishment for the crime of speaking too much in class. But given all of that, and assuming that the end result would not be the death of a student, could we then proceed to weigh in? Thank you.
Kimberly Courtright September 20, 2012 at 09:15 PM
I can't help wondering how many hundred years we want to roll ourselves back on how many issues, and the ugliness toward juveniles is beginning to get out of hand. There were at least a couple of generations who had enough sense and finesse as adults to handle children without getting physical. I was thinking at first that it was probably a high school kid and I was against it. Upon reading that it was a fourth grader I was truly disgusted. If this is the direction my country is going I think I'll probably have to find somewhere else to be. The future may be frightening and seem out of control, but the past is certainly not the cure, people. Come on.
Chris Kapsalis September 20, 2012 at 09:18 PM
That teacher is lucky the kid didn't throw up with tape on, or have an asthma attack, on and on, it is a bad idea by any stretch of the imagination to tape a mouth shut. But yes you are right, from my no child opinion, some parents will blame anything and anyone for failing their child except themselves. I had time out. Or they would call my mom or dad, who both worked full time and were not happy at all. I lost toys and was grounded more than once. My mom would drop what we were doing and take me home if I was out of line at a store and never was one to say "not my kid". She knew I could be hard headed and a brat.
Jim Caroompas (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 10:06 PM
They're not weighing in here today, but I know there are a number of people who feel corporal punishment is appropriate. I'm not one of them. I was subject to some pretty severe physical retribution, and my own kids were never much more than swatted, and that only to get their attention (they were still in diapers), not to inflict pain. I personally do not condone the tape over the mouth, though I can understand how she felt when she did it. Chris, you're right about asthma, nausea, etc. An unruly kid can be sent out of the room, or any number of other options. But to your point, Kim, I think there is a growing lack of respect, both toward and from our kids, that is disturbing.
Claudia September 21, 2012 at 04:46 AM
When teachers are unable to impart knowledge because all they do all day is try to control disruptive kids who have never learned any modicum of respect for teachers or adults, what of the kids who actually want to learn?
Claudia September 21, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Duct tape not ok. But I completely understand the frustration of a teacher trying to do his or her job, trying to deal with some jerk kid who has parents unwilling to instill respect of any kind, who ends up basically controlling the classroom by their bad behavior. It is a no win situation, for the teacher or the child.
Kathy D September 21, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Duct tape is not OK. Disruptive kids are a challenge. Maybe the teacher should talk to the kid, privately, and explain how their disruptions are affecting the class. If that doesn't work, send the kid to the counselor or principal and have the counselor or principal contact the parent.
David Holden September 21, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Jim - I don't buy your assessment of the teacher's intent. Any teacher who has lost control to the extent that he or she feels it's necessary to place duct tape on the mouth of a child can not be trusted to have the good sense to ensure that the child has an adequate airway.
David Holden September 21, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I'll weigh in. I have no problem with corporal punishment provided it is administered following strict guidelines and rules. Parents should know in advance that corporal punishment is a possibility. There should be a list of offenses for which corporal punishment is used. Parent should be notified that corporal punishment has been administered. Corporal punishment should be witnessed by another staff member. Corporal punishment should not be administered in front of other students. Corporal punishment should not result in any bruising.
Robert Rothgery September 21, 2012 at 06:35 PM
The very best part of my teaching career was assisting learners in the tradition of John Baptiste De La Salle. De La Salle was a pioneer educator in 17 century France. He taught the simultaneous method of instruction (vs. individual students conversing with a teacher one at a time), he eschewed any form of corporal punishment and had an intrinsic bias for the poor and working class peoples. Therefore I would not ever use duct tape to humiliate or punish a student. However, In my days teaching there were a lot of audio cables with folded up duct tape wrapped around the them. Detention students earned the privilege of stripping that tape off of many feet of cable, a genuinely disgusting assignment. No shame just detention.
Ken F September 21, 2012 at 11:58 PM
In the Fouth grade I was in a class of 42 students. The teacher had to be in her late 50's. We never have any problems in the class. The reason was becasue we had one thing lacking in every class room today - discipline. In those days a disruptive studnet was sent to the principal's office that that was that. And the last thing I ever wanted was for my parents to find out I was in trouble at school, becasue it they did find out, then I'd be in REAL big trouble. Now a days a student gets in trouble at school and the parents are likely to send in their lawyers to sue the school.
Jed September 22, 2012 at 12:01 AM
SURE! If a kid is SO UNRULY that he/she/it won't behave - duct tape them to a bench (AWAY from classes) or to a flagpole --- after all, the kid IS ASSAULTING the ears of the teacher and ALL the little darlings in the class with the unruly behavior and yelling. It's time kids AND their parents took responsibility for these brats behavior and not expect teachers to "take it" just "because".
Adam Henry September 25, 2012 at 06:23 AM
What ever happened to sending the unruly student to detention? Or to the Dean's office? If it truly rises to the level of requiring punishment, how about suspending the student? Only once in my school career did I ever see a teacher lay hands on a student, and that teacher no longer had a job afterward. Duct tape shows that the teacher was even more out of control than the unruly student.
Sauc September 27, 2012 at 08:14 PM
teacherw/outaclassroom October 09, 2012 at 02:36 AM
As a teacher, I understand the frustration and feelings of no other options (even if there really are other options), but it was indeed a very wrong decision, mostly because of the various reasons others have said, such as potential physical danger (asthma, etc), and the scarring of a kid's psyche (although I do have to efend the poor teacher's scarred psyche as well). That being said, the real problesm are: 1) lack of good parenting which should teach a 4th grader how to behave away from home; 2) what appears to be lack of training for the substitute, which rarely occurs, in handling such incidences without worrying how the administration will view your job as a substitute, and whether sending the student to the principal will be seen as poor classroom management, costing you future sub assignments; and 3), where was the administration? Was the substitute told to send kids down if she had problems? Or advised of a buddy-teacher to send miscreants to visit? I think there is a great deal of shame and blame to go around in this incident. I do NOT think the substitue should be banned from teaching; rather, she should be given clearer instruction on what to do if she faces a similar situation in another classroom or at another school.


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