A teacher has been banned for taking a student off-campus to get a comforting cup of hot cocoa. Janice Graf, a Long Island art teacher, has been reassigned to what her lawyer describes as “a rubber room” when the school district deemed she was breaking the rules, despite having received the consent of the student’s parents.
The veteran teacher took a distressed and sobbing student to a local convenience store for a hot chocolate and a listening ear, after gaining the consent of her father.
The student, Maddy Zaminski, a senior at Center Moriches High School on Long Island, New York, was going through what she described as an “emotional breakdown.” She was in severe emotional distress and was sobbing inconsolably when the experienced teacher decided to contact her father and get permission to take her to a nearby 7-Eleven for a hot chocolate and a listening ear.
“I couldn’t stop crying” said Zaminski. “It was a really rough month… I lost two people close to me.”
Graf recognised the student was in distress and could not continue going to classes in that state.
“She needed someone to talk to. She was very distraught. I felt that she was in crisis,” Graf told a WABC reporter.
The comforting gesture worked, and Zaminski went back to school and resumed her classes for the day. Graf said “She was able to come back to school after that and finish the rest of her day and go to her classes. She never missed a single class.”
The school district insists that Graf broke the rules and no student should be taken off campus for any reason, even pastoral care. They reassigned the art teacher of 30 years to administrative duties as a punishment, taking her out of the classroom just five months before she is due to retire. Graf’s lawyer Vess Mitev told NBC New York, “To a teacher who has dedicated her life to this, it is an indignity that should not be suffered.”
Maddy Zaminski’s mother Joanne has stated that she was just glad that Janice Graf was there for her daughter, and has no concerns at all about the gesture.
“No, I don’t feel like there was a rule being broken. I was just so grateful that Mrs Graf was there for her,” said Joanne Zaminski.
She has, however, expressed concern for Mrs. Graf’s legacy, considering she is only months from retiring. “Now they’re trying to ruin her reputation, which is really bad,” said Maddy’s mother. It is unclear whether this disciplinary action will affect Graf’s retirement plans, but it has put a damper on her last months as a teacher. “I just want to get back to my kids,” said Janice.
In an official statement, Joshua Foster, the school board president, told ABC News, “We are not permitted by law to comment on the specifics of a personnel matter. At this point Administration is continuing its investigation and review of this matter in accordance with law and District policies, and will thereafter be reporting to the Board accordingly. We will ensure that the process is thorough and equitable, and that our students, the district and the staff are appropriately protected.”
Janice Graf and her lawyer attended a meeting of the Board of Education on Wednesday to attempt to settle the matter, but negotiations are ongoing.
The student, an avid art student and talented drawer, seems confused about what the school is trying to say by punishing Mrs. Graf for helping her in her time of need. “My whole life, I’ve been told to trust your teachers and go to them when you needed help, and that’s exactly what I did.”
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