Sunday, November 18, 2001

The Oyler case


Poisonous lesson learned?

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        She couldn't say anything for a long while. Legal issues. Four children were charged with trying to poison her last May. Now the verdict is in, and Nancy Wyenandt can say whatever she wants. But “I feel speechless.”

        And heartbroken.

        She is the teacher in the horrifying case at Oyler Elementary School in Price Hill. The girls were fifth-graders — 11, 12 and 13 years old — when the incident occurred. “Incident” is a tortured euphemism for a situation in which the teacher almost drank from a bottle containing a solution of acid that an expert testified would “totally destroy the esophagus.”

A brave little person

        Luckily, the bottle felt so warm to the touch that Mrs. Wyenandt put it back in the refrigerator without tasting the mixture of water and drain cleaner. The next day, the girls retrieved the bottle and emptied it.

        Somebody — some brave little person — told a teacher.

        The police questioned several children, a long session during which the principal, Craig Hockenberry, says he gave the girls candy, crackers and snacks while they were waiting in the school office. Possibly I am wrong, but I believe this man likes children.

        As does Mrs. Wyenandt, who has three of her own.

        “My little boy — he's 9 — cried when I went back to school the next day,” she says. “He begged me to do something else, work somewhere else. He thought I wasn't safe anymore.”

        A reasonable fear.

        “It scared me to death,” she says. “I could have bled to death right there on the floor of that classroom.”

        Four students were charged.

        The next day, Nancy Wyenandt's students assembled in the auditorium. One by one they walked up and hugged her.

        "The staff and kids at Oyler have been wonderful,” Mrs. Wyenandt says. “I think our first thought was to make sure children in our school feel safe.”

        Mrs. Wyenandt's daughter, Stephanie, 16, went to court with her mom. “The four attorneys filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence, both verbal and written, given to the police officers,” Stephanie wrote in a school essay. “My faith in our court system began to fade.”

Children's rights

        Charges against one of the girls were dismissed for lack of evidence, while another pleaded guilty and testified against the other two, who were found guilty Wednesday. They'll be sentenced later this month and could receive probation or be detained until they are 21.

        One defense attorney, Christopher Kraus, said the guilty verdicts come with an important lesson. “Parents should teach their kids to assert their rights when they are being questioned by police or school authorities.” And “You have to ask why these kids were so angry at their teacher.”

        Huh?

        Are we allowed to say “horse pucky” in a family newspaper? What if they'd been angry at another student? How about a child's right to be safe at school? How about the lesson that you shouldn't hurt others, that there is a consequence to your behavior?

        How about teaching children the difference between “you shouldn't do that” and “they can't prove a thing?”

        You know, kind of trying to indicate that poisoning your teacher is something that is, like, you know, wrong. We can still say “wrong” in a family newspaper, can't we?

        Or are we all speechless?

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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