LANCASTER, Pa. - A Pennsylvania teacher was suspended last week after he cooked breakfast for his students as they took state assessments.
LancasterOnline reported that Kyle Byler, an eighth-grade teacher at Hand Middle School, was suspended without pay and warned that he would be fired for “causing a distraction” while his students took the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSAs.
Byler told local media that he brought an electric griddle to school the morning of April 10 and cooked each of his students a whole-grain pancake to eat while they took their exams. An assistant principal walked in and questioned why he was making the children breakfast.
The teacher, who many parents consider the “eighth-grade dad” at the school, was called into a meeting with administrators within 24 hours and told he would be fired, LancasterOnline reported.
Byler said in an interview Monday that he did not understand what he did wrong. The state education department does not have a rule against serving food during the PSSAs.
Pennsylvania Department of Education spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman told LancasterOnline, however, that “those activities would likely interfere with ‘actively monitoring’ the assessment, which is a key task.”
Byler said the pancakes did not deter the students.
“At no point was it any distraction for any of the students,” Byler said. “They worked their butts off.”
A student told the news site that the assistant principal was the only distraction.
“The moment she walked in, everybody turned,” Alizea Rodriguez told LancasterOnline. “She was the distraction. Not pancakes. Not Byler.”
Rodriguez and other students were distraught when Byler was not in class the next day. Many of those students showed up at a Tuesday night school board meeting, at which Byler expected to learn his fate.
School district officials dismissed the claim that he was to be fired Tuesday, saying that there was never a dismissal action on the meeting agenda and that a teacher cannot be fired without the board approving a written notice setting a hearing in the matter. None of that had taken place.
“Nor will it occur in this situation, as the personnel matter has been resolved with the employee, who is scheduled to return to work,” School District of Lancaster officials said in a statement.
The district statement said that free breakfast and lunch are offered to all students every day, including testing days.
“Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of Education strictly requires that teachers who proctor PSSA testing focus their full attention on monitoring students during the test,” the statement read. “All teachers serving as PSSA test proctors receive specific training on testing protocol. 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.”
LancasterOnline reported that about 100 concerned residents, including both parents and teachers, turned out at Tuesday’s board meeting to support Byler.
“It takes a village to raise children,” mother of two Crystle Martinez said. “He’s part of that village.”
Students and teachers were not Byler’s only fans. Officials at Holiday Inn Express sought to gift him and his students a one-touch pancake machine -- like those on the breakfast bars in Holiday Inn Express hotels -- and enough pancake batter to get them through the remainder of the school year.
“As a hotel brand that knows how important an energizing breakfast is to being ‘THE READIEST’ for the day ahead, Holiday Inn Express salutes Byler for taking the initiative and making pancakes for his students,” said a Holiday Inn Express brand spokesperson. “The brand welcomes this teacher back to school, and hopes he and his students enjoy their very own one-touch pancake machine as much as Holiday Inn Express guests do,” read a statement from the company.
It was not clear if the school district would allow Byler to put the pancake machine in his classroom.