- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

YORK, Va. Charlotte Hoskins always has used humor in her classrooms, but the veteran math teacher's off-the-cuff remark last week about "shooting" some unprepared students left her superiors not amused.

Mrs. Hoskins who has been teaching for 31 years, the last five at Grafton High School has been out of the classroom for three days.

The superintendent of county schools said he could not comment on whether she was officially suspended because it is a personnel matter.

"We were reviewing algebra facts," Mrs. Hoskins told The Washington Times yesterday, and she told her Algebra II-Trigonometry class that they better know what was going on.

"Or what?" asked some students.

Or, she said jokingly, she'd just "shoot" them. She added amid the laughter among her students that the class was safe until Christmas because her husband wasn't getting a gun until then.

Mrs. Hoskins, 53, said it was a joke and that she thought the students understood. It's a remark she said she now regrets making.

"This day and time, it's hard to joke with students," she said. "You have to be careful what you say.

"I think it's sad that society has gotten to the point where we can't have a little fun and tease in the classroom," she said outside her home yesterday.

Mrs. Hoskins, wearing a red turtleneck with a broach pinned to the top reading "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," said the incident is indicative of the microscope teachers are under these days, and it's left her looking forward to retirement in four years.

That's a shame, according to the students who say Mrs. Hoskins is a great teacher, and the co-workers who say she's a wonderful friend.

Christine Dietz, a 16-year-old junior at Grafton and a student of Mrs. Hoskins in another Algebra II-Trigonometry class, said those who know her think the incident has been blown out of proportion.

"I think she expected everyone she knew to know that she was joking," Christine said, noting students are "glad she's still teaching."

Christine said Mrs. Hoskins returned yesterday and apologized to her class, but seemed "stressed out" by the ordeal.

"She said it's hard to break old habits," Christine said.

A fellow Grafton teacher, who asked not to be identified, said Mrs. Hoskins is one of the nicest teachers he's met.

"We think that this could have been handled differently," the teacher said. "She's a good teacher, a good lady."

But York County School Division Superintendent of Schools Steven R. Staples said Mrs. Hoskins' joke was inappropriate in a time of heightened awareness about school safety.

"If we err, we do err on the side of safety," Mr. Staples said, noting that he has known Mrs. Hoskins for a long time and was surprised to hear she made the comments.

Mr. Staples said he understands that some might think his administration overreacted in yanking Mrs. Hoskins out of her classroom. But making a crack about guns doesn't go over well in the community now, he said.

Mrs. Hoskins was relieved of her teaching duties last Wednesday evening after the parents of a student called to complain about the remark, school sources said. An investigation soon followed, leading to Mr. Staples' decision to keep her out of the classroom.

"I think everybody is heightened to the connection between guns and schools," Mr. Staples said, acknowledging that the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., and other acts of violence in schools have meant his 11,800-student school district has to take threats of violence seriously.

Ironically, neither Mrs. Hoskins nor her husband owns a gun, she said. In fact, she was planning to buy a gun for her husband so that he could go skeet shooting with their 28-year-old son, Wayne.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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