A Coatesville Area School District teacher says she is facing termination after placing duct tape on a student’s nose with a message reading, “I have nothing nice to say.”

Audra Ritter, a seventh-grade special-education and English language arts teacher at North Brandywine Middle School, said she was trying to “de-escalate” a situation with humor when she taped the message to a girl’s nose on May 4 — an incident that led to Ritter’s suspension from the Chester County school district and a statement of charges approved by the school board Tuesday night.

Ritter, who is also president of the district’s teachers’ union, said Tuesday afternoon that the student — “who I felt I had a good relationship with” — had been yelling at another student while the class was preparing to take the PSSA tests.

She said that she was “joking” as she applied the duct tape to the student’s nose, and that the student was laughing and “perfectly fine in my class for the next two hours.”

According to the statement of charges from the school district, however, the student was “humiliated and offended” by the incident — which also involved one of her classmates taking the tape and placing it over the student’s mouth. The statement said the student went to the principal to be excused from Ritter’s class later in the day.

According to the statement, the principal sent Ritter an email informing her that the student would not be in attendance, but Ritter went into another class to track the child down and “began threatening retaliation” against her.

While Ritter’s conduct “would be considered egregious regardless of the student involved, it is even more reprehensible due to the fact that this is a student with disabilities,” whom Ritter knew “was agitated” before putting the tape on her, the district said in the statement.

It also noted that the student is Black. Ritter, who is white, “has unlawfully discriminated against this child ... on the basis of race and/or created a hostile environment based on race,” the district’s statement said.

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Ritter said Tuesday she sought out the student because she was trying to find out why she had missed class. The teacher realized her error, she said, after she learned that the student had been upset by the taping.

“The tape was the wrong vehicle, absolutely,” Ritter said. “Do I deserve a punishment for that? Absolutely. Do I deserve termination? No.”

She disputed the allegation of racial discrimination, saying that the fact that she is white and the student is Black is “the only reason that’s in there.” And as for her approach to a child with disabilities, Ritter said she was drawing on her experience as a special-education teacher.

“That’s how I know that humor works,” said Ritter, who said she has been teaching for 28 years. “If a student was showing they were agitated or upset by my action — it wouldn’t happen.”

When she learned that the student had been upset by the incident, Ritter said, she asked to apologize to the child and her family, but the principal wouldn’t allow her. She said she was suspended the next day, initially with pay, though her leave is now unpaid.

A request for comment from the district’s substitute superintendent, Rick Dunlap, wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

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In addition to the unlawful discrimination allegation, the statement of charges says Ritter “violated federal and state law by failing to comply with and properly implement the child’s IEP and behavioral plan.” It also says she violated the district’s code of employee conduct and Pennsylvania Board of Education regulations around behavioral interventions for students — citing rules that all children “shall be free from demeaning treatment, the use of aversive techniques and the unreasonable use of restraints.”

The board approved the statement of charges, 7-2, without any discussion Tuesday night.

A number of people spoke during public comment about Ritter, however. One parent referred to “a teacher putting duct tape on a child” while describing how she was “appalled at what education is becoming everywhere.” But others spoke on Ritter’s behalf, including fellow union officers who questioned why the district had publicly released its charges against her.

“Why is it this one who is named? Could it be that she happens to be president of the teachers’ union?” said Scott Polk, a high school English teacher, arguing that other personnel matters weren’t similarly disclosed.

Jarrell Brazzle, a former student of Ritter’s, said that when he was an eighth grader in her class, she was the first teacher he’d encountered in the district who “believed I could become something.”

Brazzle, who is Black, also said that Ritter was not racist.

“She plays jokes. She played jokes with me,” said Brazzle, who said he often came to school angry, but “she saw through that.”

Ritter said she will have the chance to address the board during a hearing, or to file a grievance through the union.

Ritter previously faced termination from the district in 2019, Lancaster Online reported at the time. Ritter said Tuesday that she was accused of submitting inaccurate scores on a reading test that she had been given limited training to administer. “I was reinstated from that, and that was it,” she said. Dunlap did not respond to a question about the 2019 incident.