A teacher who said he was suspended pending termination last week for serving pancakes during the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment will return to work Thursday, according to School District of Lancaster.
Kyle Byler, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Hand Middle School, said Monday he was suspended without pay after being disciplined for making whole-grain pancakes for his students while they took the exam. A vote on his termination, Byler said, was expected at Tuesday night's school board meeting.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon, an SDL spokeswoman said there was never any "dismissal action" on the school board's agenda.
“In any event, no teacher can be dismissed without the School Board first approving a written notice that offers the opportunity for a School Board hearing, and that step has also not occurred," Kelly Burkholder said in an email to LNP. "Nor will it occur in this situation, as the personnel matter has been resolved with the employee, who is scheduled to return to work.”
The school board on Tuesday did not vote on Byler's termination, but that didn't stop about 100 concerned residents from showing up in support of a man who parents said is like the "eighth-grade dad."
"It takes a village to raise children," Crystle Martinez, a mother of two, said. "He's part of that village."
Martinez also called out the school for not handling the situation better. Byler not being fired doesn't minimize the harm this situation has already caused, she said.
"He is an amazing teacher," Hand eighth-grade student Naryeliz Lopez said. "He's been there for me since day one, and when he wasn't there (after his suspension), I completely fell apart."
On Monday, Byler told LNP he was suspended without pay on April 10 for making one whole-grain pancake for each of his students as they took the PSSA. He said Hand assistant Principal Marian Grill walked in and questioned why he was making breakfast for his students. Within 24 hours, Byler said he had a meeting with administration who told him he'd be fired for causing a distraction during PSSA testing.
Should a School District of Lancaster teacher have been disciplined for serving pancakes to his students during PSSA exams?
“All teachers serving as PSSA proctors receive specific training on testing protocol,” Burkholder said. “Had permission been sought by a teacher to cook in the classroom during PSSA testing and serve food to the students, the response would have been that such activities would distract the teacher from the required duties as a test proctor.”
Free breakfast and lunch is offered to all students every day, she added.
Alizea Rodriguez, who was in Byler's testing room, said at Tuesday's meeting that Byler, who often lends a "shoulder to cry on" and serves as a father figure to many students, was not a distraction.
According to Pennsylvania Department of Education spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman, there isn't a rule prohibiting the preparing or serving of food during testing; however, “those activities would likely interfere with ‘actively monitoring’ the assessment, which is a key task.”
Lancaster Education Association President Jason Molloy said the district also doesn't have a rule against serving food during the PSSAs. In fact, it's common practice for the school to offer snacks and drinks.
“There has never been any kind of administrative notice that said what kind of food we may provide to our students during testing,” Molloy said.
Byler was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.