Editor's note: According to documents filed with the 3rd District Court by the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification, the case against Kimberly Anne Wallace has been expunged.
WEST VALLEY CITY — An incident involving a teacher charged with misdemeanor child abuse after she allegedly used force to deal with a disobedient student has provided insight into some of the challenges teachers face in the classroom.
West Lake Junior High School teacher Kimberley Wallace, 49, was charged with child abuse, a class A misdemeanor, Tuesday. A 14-year-old student argued with Wallace after the student began drinking the soda in class, despite the teacher's request for the student to stop, court documents state.
The student drank the soda and threw it in the trash. Wallace allegedly removed the can from the trash, smashed it in the student's hand and threw the can at the student's shoulder after pushing him out the classroom door, charges state.
Wallace is listed as a special education teacher on the school's website, and Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill said he received information from police indicating "the student presented special needs issues."
Trouble in the classroom is not unheard of. The Utah State Office of Education reports that during the past two years there have been 10 incidents involving student-teacher altercations. Four teachers have had their licenses suspended.
Among the most visible was Steve North, a former football coach at Wasatch High School in Heber City. North pleaded no contest to assault charges in October for allegedly hitting a student over the head with a hockey stick, pushing him against a wall and kneeing him in the groin. Witnesses said the student was known for back-talking and was disrupting his class. The mother of the student said the family had to "live in hiding" because of the community support for North.
"There are absolutely a lot of pressures on teachers," said Carol Lear, who reviews teacher licenses for the Utah State Office of Education. "There's a lot of stress. On the other hand, what we always say to teachers is that you are always the adult. You're always the one who's supposed to be in control."
Lear said teachers can use "reasonable force" in instances such as a student attacking the teacher or another student, or if a student is hurting themselves or hurting school property "in a significant way."
Vicki McMurray, a retired junior high school teacher, said student disobedience frequently makes it difficult for them to do their job.
"A student might be flagrantly disrespectful and disobedient, and it makes it very difficult," she said. "And parents are challenging. Teachers' motives are being challenged."
McMurray said she doesn't condone the actions of the West Lake Junior High School teacher, but she said that while teachers get into the profession to help students learn, they face a lot of pressures.
"They have parents who challenge them," she said. "They have more pressure from administration and test scores. It makes it hard to do your job when you have so much negative coming at you."
Human Rights Watch reports corporal punishment, or any sort of physical punishment meant to inflict pain for discipline, is a legal form of school discipline in 20 states. Utah is not one of those states.