Kindergarten teacher receives reprimand for ‘tapping’ student’s tongue

A parent accused her son’s kindergarten teacher of hitting the boy’s mouth with the back of her hand when he stuck his tongue out. But the teacher and her husband say the incident has been blown out of proportion by the “disgruntled” parent.

Carol Rekowski, 64, a tenured teacher at Maryville Elementary School, denies hitting the student, but admits that she “tapped” his tongue when he stuck it out.

The parent also said she witnessed Rekowski make the following random comments:

▪  Called a kindergartener a “big mouth” after the student blurted out an answer in class.

▪  Asked a kindergartener if she wanted her mouth taped shut.

▪  Made a comment about a student’s parent having handcuffs in the bedroom when police officers visited the school.

Rekowski admitted she made the comments and said that, in context, they were appropriate.

Maryville Elementary School Principal Carmen Loemker said she couldn’t comment on the matter.

Public relations liaison Kim Collins said the Collinsville Unit 10 School District also can’t comment on the matter because it involves personnel. But the school board voted unanimously Nov. 14 to send Rekowski what’s called a notice of remedial warning, which was released to the News-Democrat under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

A remedial warning is a written reprimand from a local school board to an employee, according to the Illinois Education Association, which represents teachers and school employees in Unit 10. Remedial warnings state that specific behavior shouldn’t occur in the future.

Any teacher, tenured or nontenured, can receive a remedial warning, the association stated in an email to the BND.

The remedial warning given to Rekowski characterizes her conduct as “deficient and unsatisfactory” and her comments as “inappropriate,” based on an investigation. It states that if repeated, they could result in her firing.

Rekowski said she has worked at Maryville Elementary for 16 years, worked as a substitute teacher in the district for 15 years and as a teacher in the Catholic school system for nine years before that. Her husband, John, 65, said this is the first time his wife has received a complaint.

“She eats, sleeps, drinks and dies teaching. Loves doing it,” said John Rekowski, the Madison County public defender.

Alleged use of physical force

Carol Rekowski said she was looking over her student’s math homework when she saw that he was getting ready to stick his tongue out, something he had been doing in the classroom for several weeks, she said.

She said she held up her hand “to make a stop sign,” without looking up from his work, indicating that he should stop. When she did that, Rekowski said the boy moved forward, and his tongue touched the back of her hand.

“That’s the whole story,” she said. “... All I was doing was trying to stop him from doing it so he wouldn’t get himself in trouble.”

She told his mom about it that night, Oct. 20, via a text message, writing that she “reached up and tapped his tongue today when he stuck it out.”

Rekowski said the parent wasn’t angry, even bringing the boy into school the next day to apologize to his teacher for sticking his tongue out, according to Carol Rekowski.

“Sticking out his tongue? We can never get ahead of this kid. It’s always something. We really appreciate your updates. He must of had a rough day,” the parent said in the texts, according to John Rekowski.

But the remedial warning states that Carol Rekowski admitted during a meeting with the student’s parent that she hit his mouth. Carol Rekowski said the only meeting she had with the boy’s parents was a 15-minute parent-teacher conference about a week after the incident, on Oct. 27, and that they only discussed his performance in the classroom.

“We didn’t discuss the tapping of the tongue,” she said. “I was too busy telling them about all the grades and how he had scored.”

Carol Rekowski said the parent accused her of using physical force to discipline the kindergartener the day after the conference, Oct. 28, because of something the teacher said in that meeting.

“At the end of the 15 minutes, the father asked, ‘Can you tell us some good things about the child?’ And it kind of blind-sided me because I’d already told him the good things on the report card,” Carol Rekowski said.

“I said, ‘Well, he likes recess and (physical education) and music and all those things, but I don’t imagine those are the things that you’re looking to hear.’ And I said, ‘I’m coming up blank at the moment to give you a long list of the good things about your child.’”

John Rekowski said the parent didn’t meet with the principal at the time of the incident to report it, but only after the parent-teacher conference. He said his wife has been upset about the incident.

“Nobody was upset when it happened. ... And then a week later, one of the parents gets their feelings hurt, then all of a sudden, they start this crusade to basically destroy my wife and her teaching career,” he said.

The student has been transferred out of Carol Rekowski’s class.

Statements in presence of students

The boy’s parent also complained about random comments she heard Rekowski make while she was volunteering in the classroom.

Carol Rekowski admitted she used the phrase “big mouth” when a student repeatedly shouted out answers without raising her hand.

“I said, ‘Don’t be a big mouth,’ you know, ‘Raise your hand. That’s our rule: We raise our hand when we want to talk,’” Rekowski said.

The teacher also said she has asked her students in a joking manner if they want their mouths taped shut.

“I use that phrase every once in a while with the kids when they have been told many times, ‘We need to get quiet,’ and we smile at each other. ‘You really need a piece of tape?’ ‘No,’ they say. We laugh and giggle about it,” Carol Rekowski said. “I would never tape a child’s mouth nor even offer it, like say, ‘Here’s the tape. Go get it.’ It is just a comment when saying, ‘Be quiet’ doesn’t work. I just tried a different phrase.”

“She’s an excellent teacher,” John Rekowski said of his wife. “This is character assassination at its finest.”

Another statement Carol Rekowski made was misinterpreted, she said. She reportedly made a comment about a student’s parent having handcuffs in the bedroom when police officers visited her classroom.

Carol Rekowski said an officer talked to her students about guns and the other things he carries on his belt.

“... A little boy raised his hand and said, ‘My dad has guns and he keeps them in the bedroom, in a closet.’ ... A little girl raised her hand and said, ‘My mommy has a set of real handcuffs, too, that she keeps.’ And I turned away from the kids, and the officers were standing slightly behind me and to my side, and I said, ‘They’re probably in the bedroom, too,’ meaning where the guns are, that’s where the handcuffs are,” Carol Rekowski said.

She said the officers smiled and moved on in the presentation.

“I didn’t say it loud for the kids to hear. I turned around and talked to the two police officers,” she said.

Carol Rekowski said the parent was volunteering in her classroom that day when she made these statements. While she said the students couldn’t hear her comment to the police officers, Carol Rekowski said the parent apparently could.

The remedial warning states that Carol Rekowski displayed “poor judgment” when she said these things in front of students and parents.

“You are directed to interact and speak with students, parents and staff in a positive and constructive manner and maintain professionalism at all time,” the warning states.

Carol Rekowski said she disagrees with the characterization that any of these statements were inappropriate.

“They’re not inappropriate. It’s based on what’s going on at the time,” she said.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes