Fact Check

Tioga Hills Elementary School Controversy

Rumor: A hearing-impaired student at Tioga Hills Elementary School was physically disciplined by a teacher and sustained a dislocated shoulder as a result.

Published Apr 9, 2015

Claim:   A hearing-impaired student at Tioga Hills Elementary School was physically disciplined by a teacher and sustained a dislocated shoulder as a result.


Example:   [Collected via Facebook, April 2015]


PLEASE SHARE! I would like to ask my friends to please share and support us at this time. I am not going to stand silent anymore. On Tuesday, March 17th, my son, Tommy suffered an attack on him by his math teacher, Mrs. Joan Barr Pokorak at Tioga Hills Elementary School in the Vestal School District. As many of you know, my 10 year old, fourth grade son, Tommy has been through many ear surgeries over the past years, resulting in a significant hearing loss in his left ear. He has a 504 Plan in place at school due to his disability. The plan specifies that he have preferential seating in the front of the room with his right ear, his "good" ear towards the teacher. This plan has been in place over 2 years.

It came to our attention that during this math teacher's class, Tommy is seated near the back of the classroom with his impaired ear in the direction of the math teacher. During CSE meetings the hearing specialist from the school noted that Tom cannot hear in this position. Tommy and students in the classroom testify that on Tuesday, March 17th Mrs. Pokorak was working on a math problem at the front of the room and hesitating with an answer. Tommy blurted out, "the answer is.." giving the answer out of turn. From what students have testified, Mrs. Pokorak screamed, "GET OUT!!!!"

[Click here to expand text].


Origins:   Sharon Vail Russo of Binghamton, New York, posted the above-reproduced item to her Facebook page on 3 April 2015, detailing an alleged assault on her 10-year-old son Tommy by his math teacher on 17 March 2015 at the Tioga Hills Elementary School in in Apalachin, New York. According to Ms. Russo's account, her fourth-grade son has a significant hearing loss in one ear and is therefore typically seated in classrooms towards the front of the room with his "good" ear positioned towards the teacher in order to help compensate for his hearing loss. For some reason Tommy was seated in a disadvantageous position in his math class, and when he supposedly blurted out something like "c'mon, the answer is ..." in reference to a math problem the teacher was attempting to work out on in front of the room, the teacher yelled at him to "GET OUT" of the classroom. When Tommy failed to respond to this command (because his hearing issue made him unsure whether it was addressed to him), the teacher physically dragged him out of his seat, pushed and pulled him out the classroom door and into the hallway, and slammed the door behind him, screaming at him and dislocating his shoulder in the process.

The New York State Police Child Abuse hotline was contacted a day after the alleged incident, and in April 2015 state police reported they had completed an investigation into the allegations and that a decision on whether to pursue criminal charges (two possible misdemeanor charges) rested in the hands of the Tioga County District Attorney. On 6 April 2015 Ms. Russo posted again about the incident to her Facebook page, indicating that the district attorney's office had opened a case about the matter:

I spoke with my attorney, Mr. Ronald Benjamin. He told me that he has been in contact with Mr. Gartenman (1st Assistant DA for Tioga Co.) and the case has been opened. He expressed that as soon as the big trial Tioga Co. is dealing with now is over, they will be dealing with the CPS investigation from the NY State Police regarding Mrs. P.
Mr. Benjamin also said he would speak to media regarding the case and they should contact him should they wish. As for the teacher, Mrs. P- She is still at Tioga Hills Elementary as of today.

However, on 7 April 2015 Vestal Central School District Superintendent Mark LaRoach sent a letter to parents of students at Tioga Hills Elementary stating that the District Attorney's office had determined the accusations were unfounded and the teacher had been exonerated.

Nonetheless, the Russos' attorney said they had filed an action against the school district that would "mature into a lawsuit in the next couple of months."

Last updated:   9 April 2015

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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