Friday, July 18, 2003

Sen. McConnell's daughter center of school controversy

The Associated Press

GHENT, N.Y. - More than a dozen parents have removed their children from an alternative, private school in a rural upstate county amid complaints about disciplinary tactics by one teacher.

Claire McConnell, who apologized in a letter June 24, was accused of strapping one child into a chair with a leather belt, tying the hands of others and taping shut the mouths of some elementary school students, the Albany Times Union reported Thursday.

Parents said the tactics were out of character for the Hawthorne Valley School, a Waldorf school that designs programs to reflect the emotional, physical and intellectual development in children.

McConnell, daughter of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not immediately return phone messages.

"She's a young teacher, a learning teacher," Patrice Maynard, a teacher and mentor to McConnell, told the newspaper. She referred further questions to a letter promising that "errors in disciplinary action would not be repeated."

Reached in Washington, her father said, "I just heard about it this morning. I've not spoken with her, and I really don't know anything about it."

Bob Wohlfeld and DeeAnn Veeder, whose daughter had been tied to her chair when she wouldn't settle down, removed her after she finished second grade in June. "We were a little dumbstruck," Wohlfeld said.

The school 25 miles south of Albany has about 300 students in grades K-12.

Bill Hirschen, a state Education Department spokesman, said corporal punishment is forbidden in public schools, but the "law is silent" on the matter of private schools.

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