A teacher who has worked at L.J. Hauser junior High School since 1976 is retiring a year earlier than she planned as a result of being written up for grabbing a sixth-grade student by the arm on March 31.
Two days after the incident, Kimberly Zeman Tomkins, a social studies teacher, was put on paid administrative leave. The district concluded Zeman-Tomkins had acted unprofessionally by grabbing the student and yelling at him as she took him down to the office.
The district’s formal findings also noted that Zeman Tomkins slammed the door on her way out of the office.
Two weeks later, Zeman Tomkins met with district administrators and was told that she was to return to her classroom on April 21. She was also informed that a letter detailing her conduct would be placed in her personnel file and that the school board would approve a formal notice of “remedial warning” to her in May.
Zeman Tomkins was also told another occurrence of similar conduct would lead to her dismissal. The superintendent, she was told, would report to the school board quarterly about her performance.
“They told me that if I came back to work, I would be on probation and that I would be under remediation,” Zeman Tompkins told the Landmark last week.
Zeman Tomkins said she could not come back to work under those conditions.
“My health was already failing, and I physically couldn’t come back due to the allegations and the paid administrative leave and the notice of remediation,” Zeman Tomkins said. “I’m devastated by the way this has been handled.”
Zeman Tomkins has not been back to work since April 2, opting for sick leave since the end of April. She said that a preexisting medical condition has been aggravated by the stress of being put on administrative leave and said she recently was hospitalized for a few days.
The district concluded that Zeman Tomkins violated its policy on maintaining student discipline, which forbids ” disciplinary methods that may be damaging to students, such as ridicule, sarcasm, or excessive temper displays,” as well as corporal punishment. Teachers may use reasonable force to keep students and others safe.
Zeman Tomkins submitted a retirement letter to the school district on May 6. The District 96 Board of Education met in a special meeting that night, but the board took no action, apparently wanting Zeman Tomkins to sign a release, waiving any right to sue before approving her resignation. The school board is expected to approve a retirement agreement at its May 20 regular meeting.
“I hope so,” said District 96 superintendent Bhavna-Sharma Lewis when asked if she thought the situation would be resolved then.
Sharma-Lewis also confirmed that was Zeman Tomkins’ decision not to be in the classroom now and not to return next year.
In the public comment portion of the May 6 special meeting held at 9:30 p.m. after a finance committee meeting, three people spoke out in support of Zeman Tomkins, not knowing that it was her choice not to return to the classroom.
“We’ve had nothing but a positive experience with her,” said Karen Doornebos who said that Zeman Tomkins taught both of her children. “She’s been a fabulous teacher. She cares about kids.”
Another parent whose daughter was in a class taught by Zeman-Tomkins said she and her daughter were left in the dark about why Zeman Tomkins suddenly disappeared from her classroom.
“I really am not understanding the situation and why I haven’t been given an explanation and why the community hasn’t been given an explanation,” said Olga Pribyl.
But the school board president responded that there was little she could say.
“We just don’t have a lot of flexibility is these personnel matters.” District 96 school board President Mary Rose Mangia said after the public comments.
On March 31 Zeman Tomkins reportedly ordered the student to call a parent while he was in her class. When the student refused, Zeman Tomkins called the boy’s father who then, according to Zeman Tomkins, had an angry conversation with her.
Zeman Tomkins would not confirm that she had grabbed the boy by the arm.
“I don’t recall,” Zeman Tomkins said.
Zeman Tomkins grew up in Brookfield and Riverside and graduated from Hauser in 1967. She was the homecoming queen at Riverside-Brookfield High School in 1970 and was hired by District 96 in 1976 after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Zeman Tomkins said that she is sad that her long career is ending this way, but says given her health issues she cannot return to her classroom. As part of her retirement agreement, she wants the disciplinary letter removed from her personnel file.
“I want to retire with my head held high,” Zeman Tomkins said.
Zeman Tomkins said the position of a teacher is much different today than when she began teaching in the 1970s.
“We were revered and honored,” Zeman Tomkins said.
Now it’s different.
“When we get nasty emails from parents, we just have to say thank you,” Zeman Tomkins said. “All the teachers in District 96 are paranoid.”