Teachers ordered fourth-grader to do pushups for talking in class. Was it appropriate?

Pablo Lopez:

Shy and insecure, the fourth-grade student dropped to the floor of a classroom filled with students, ordered by a Fresno teacher to do pushups and other calisthenics for talking during a lesson.

Nearly three years after the incident, Fresno Unified teachers Michelle Coyne and Joshua Gehris are on trial in Fresno Superior Court, accused in a civil trial of humiliating the fourth-grader, a 9-year-old girl.

In opening statements of the trial, Fresno attorney Jason Helsel, who represents the girl and her mother, called Coyne and Gehris “bullies” for making the frightened girl do pushups, leg lifts and “planks” — an exercise in which a person uses his or her toes and elbows to remain off the ground.

As the girl was doing the exercises, students watched in silence, fearing they would be next to do pushups if they spoke out, Helsel told the jury.

Fresno attorney Bruce Berger, who is representing the Fresno Unified School District, Gehris and Coyne, however, told the jury that state law gives teachers wide discretion in disciplining students in order to manage the classroom.

“This case is not about bullying,” Berger said.