Justified or over the line? Substitute teacher's belt discipline on students spurs debate

Social media is buzzing over a viral video you saw first on FOX 5. It shows a Prince George's County substitute teacher using what appears to be a belt to break up a fight in the classroom.

Many of you on our Facebook and Twitter pages have already weighed in and many people are showing support for the substitute teacher's action.

But Prince George's County Public Schools says he used improper discipline and has been removed from the classroom. Police and the state's attorney's office are also investigating him.   

Last Friday at Gwynn Park Middle School in Brandywine, a student captured a few seconds of the substitute teacher breaking up a possible fight inside a sixth grade classroom. He starts swinging a belt while kids start screaming and scatter.

"Some in my class are saying that the discipline was right," said seventh grade student Diamond Doctor.

"My children said that [the teacher] was very personable," said Cherrail Curry. "He was Vietnam veteran. He got drafted, so he evidently talked to them and shared with them [his experience]. He was, as one of my sons put it, a very gentle giant."

"I didn't see it as he was trying to hurt kids," said Anthony Pelt. "Maybe just fed up a little bit and his way of trying to say you guys need some discipline. I didn't see him as trying to abuse the kids or hurt the kids."

"I thought the kids were extremely unruly," said Aaron Ajani. "However, the substitute teacher went well above and beyond what he was supposed to do. There were other things he could have done without being that aggressive."

The video has gone viral and it is making national headlines now.

What should a teacher or substitute do to break up a fight?

"A teacher must take some reasonable action to stop the violence," said Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George's County Educators' Association.

We asked Haines if a teacher or a substitute in this case get physical?

"We are permitted to under the law as long as it's a reasonable action and it doesn't endanger yourself," he said.

The association does not represent substitute teachers. But Haines said he didn't like what he saw in the video.

"I can't condone corporal punishment," he said. "Corporal punishment of any kind is forbidden in the state. Both the state association and the local association over the last decade or so developed a policy where we discourage teachers from touching students at all.

"We've had too many instances of apparently innocent contact being misconstrued and teachers losing jobs."

The response to the video on social media has been extraordinary.

@The_Dylan_Snow tweeted: "Wow. This is the wrong path of discipline. He may have had a good idea, but whipping children to get it done."

"He wasn't disciplining students, he was breaking up a fight. Possibly saving 1 child from serious harm," said @Phyllisanne1205.

@mc3h2 wrote: "Good Job Substitute! Time to get adults in charge and corporal punishment back in the classroom."

In our own poll on MyFoxDC.com, we asked you if you are surprised at all of the support the substitute teacher has received from parents. Nearly 75 percent voted they were not surprised.

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