Judge dismisses assault charge against teacher

PETOSKEY, Mich. (AP) -- A Charlevoix County judge has dismissed a misdemeanor assault charge against a former East Jordan elementary school teacher accused of hitting a 10-year-old boy with a ruler.

Judge Richard May threw out the charge last Wednesday against Paula Vollbach, 50, after her attorney argued that case law dating back more than a century allows teachers to use "reasonable" force with children -- even though Michigan outlawed corporal punishment of students in 1976.

The Petoskey News-Review reported that school district officials placed Vollbach on leave from her elementary art teacher job after the fifth-grade boy's parents filed a police report over alleged March incident. Vollbach later was among a number of teachers laid off because of budget cuts.

In her motion, defense attorney Mary Beth Kur cited a 1909 case that said teachers can act "in local parentis," a Latin phrase meaning "in place of a parent."

That doctrine "provides that the parent, custodian, or one placed in authority over a minor child may exercise a reasonable amount of force in the child's chastisement and so long as he or she acts in good faith, honestly thinking that what he or she does is for the benefit of the child, he or she is not liable for the assault unless the punishment inflicted is excessive and cruel," Kur said.

The News-Review said Kur declined additional comment. The Associated Press left a phone message seeking comment with Kur's office.

Shaynee Fanara, chief assistant prosecutor, told the newspaper she didn't think the 1909 ruling "is a shield for teachers hitting children. Here it was the teacher acting out of anger or frustration."

Fanara said the boy acted properly by reporting the incident to his parents.

"I'm really proud of him coming forward," she said. "He did the right thing. The criminal justice system failed him, but I want to encourage other children to come forward if this happens to them."

Published: Mon, Oct 24, 2011