7/15/2014 11:54:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - A teacher who insulted middle schoolers and let them harangue each other on a Jerry Springer-style "talk show" belongs in Connecticut's registry of child abusers, the state's highest court ruled.
Nicholas Frank taught fifth and sixth graders in the New Haven Public School District in 2008. One student, K, complained to his mother that Frank was calling him names and pinching his cheeks.
K reported that Frank called him "birthing mother," "fish out of water" and "pregnant." The boy said that the pinching hurt because he had metal bars implanted in his mouth. Frank allegedly pinch K's cheeks or forced him to skip lunch every time K asked more than 10 questions per day.
"On one occasion, K attempted to resist the plaintiff's attempt to pinch his cheeks and the plaintiff stepped on K's foot to prevent him from getting away, tackled him to the ground, placed a foot on his back, and then proceeded to pinch K's cheeks," according to the unanimous decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Investigators learned that other students following Frank's lead soon began pinching K's cheeks as well.
Frank also had an activity called "The Mr. Frank Show," in which students "get to talk about other kids on the microphone," Justice Dennis Eveleigh wrote for the court.
One investigator compared the "Mr. Frank Show" to "The Jerry Springer Show."
After K's mother complained that her child suffered from sleeplessness and bedwetting, school district personnel conducted an investigation. Other students confirmed that Frank had called K and other students by embarrassing names. Frank was suspended for eight days.
The New Haven Register's coverage of the situation brought it to the attention of the Department of Children and Families. An ensuing investigation landed Frank on the central registry of child abuse and neglect.
Though a trial court upheld the department's ruling, the Connecticut Appellate Court ruled for Frank.
Finding the statutory term of "abused" to be void for vagueness, the appellate court ordered Frank's name removed from the central registry.
In reversing last week, the Connecticut Supreme Court said that the record is "replete with evidence containing the specific factual foundation underlying the department's decision to substantiate the charge of child abuse against the plaintiff and recommend that his name be placed on the central registry."
The word "abused" in the statute was not unconstitutionally void for vagueness, according to the ruling.
"It should be obvious to anyone, let alone a professional educator, that this type of behavior - the targeting of a particular student's physical characteristics in a demeaning and hurtful way - would readily fall within the terms of 'degrading' or 'victimizing,'" Eveleigh said.