Pennsylvania teacher says he was suspended for making students breakfast during state test

LANCASTER, Pa. – A teacher at a Pennsylvania middle school said he was suspended and expected to lose his job after making breakfast for his students while they took state tests last week.

LancasterOnline.com reports Hand Middle School teacher Kyle Byler brought an electric griddle and made a whole-grain pancake for each student to eat during the test.

Less than 24 hours later, the eighth-grade social studies teacher said he was told the school board would be voting at a Tuesday meeting to decide whether or not to terminate him for causing a distraction during the tests. He was suspended without pay, but the school board said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that “there was never any dismissal action on the Board’s agenda,” and that he’s due back in the classroom this week.

District officials added that “no teacher can be dismissed without the School Board first approving a written notice that offers the opportunity for a School Board hearing, and that step has also not occurred.”

“I don’t understand what I did wrong, to be honest with you. There was no infraction whatsoever,” Byler, 38, told LancasterOnline.com. “At no point was it any distraction for any of the students. They worked their butts off.”

School officials said in the statement that they already provide food for the students, and that “the Pennsylvania Department of Education strictly requires that teachers who proctor PSSA testing focus their full attention on monitoring students during the test.”

Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, told the paper that while no rules are in place to keep teachers from preparing a meal for students during a test, doing so would “likely interfere with ‘actively monitoring’ the assessment, which is a key task.”

Meanwhile, Byler’s students have come to his defense and even protested for two hours outside the school Friday.

Lancaster Education Association President Jason Molloy told the newspaper that the situation should have been handled differently. He said that losing Byler would be “a terrible injustice to his students,” and that many of them are from economically distressed households and often come to school hungry.

“For some, whole-grain pancakes may be the only hot meal they’ve gotten that day,” said Molloy.

See the full response from the school district below:

There is an inaccurate news report that the School Board is scheduled to take action tonight to dismiss a teacher. That is wrong. There was never any dismissal action on the Board’s agenda. In any event, no teacher can be dismissed without the School Board first approving a written notice that offers the opportunity for a School Board hearing, and that step has also not occurred. Nor will it occur in this situation, as the personnel matter has been resolved with the employee, who is scheduled to return to work.

Regarding the incident addressed in the news report, the School District provides a free breakfast and lunch for all students every day, including PSSA testing days. Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of Education strictly requires that teachers who proctor PSSA testing focus their full attention on monitoring students during the test. All teachers serving as PSSA test proctors receive specific training on testing protocol. Had permission been sought by a teacher to cook in the classroom during PSSA testing and serve food to the students, the response would have been that such activities would distract the teacher from the required duties as a test proctor. PDE has requested information about this incident for its review.

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