The incident happened just after 3 p.m. at Jefferson Elementary School. A school spokeswoman said the sentence was being written by a sixth-grader as part of an English lesson. The 12-year-old boy had no previous experience handling complex sentences, sources say.
Authorities are investigating claims by teachers’ union representatives that at the time of the incident the class was being supervised by an unqualified student teacher. In addition, a school board spokesman refused to comment on reports that the regular class teacher had been placed on administrative leave for introducing students to age-inappropriate vocabulary, and encouraging them to experiment with grammar structures that were not part of the authorized sixth-grade curriculum.
Witnesses say the student, who was not injured and whose name is being withheld for legal reasons, may have strung together as many as seven independent clauses, separated only by commas, before losing control of the sentence. Classmates say they had been given only one lesson in the use of coordinating conjunctions, and they had not been taught the proper use of semi-colons, which grammar experts say could have prevented the tragedy.
Massachusetts Teachers Association spokeswoman Celine Cain claims the incident has exposed a culture of cost-cutting and poor management. “Class sizes have been growing, and budgets have been slashed. These kids had to share one copy of ‘Harvey’s Elementary Grammar and Composition’ between two students. Administrators are completely out of touch with what’s going on in classrooms. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call.”
The injured students were taken to nearby Sturdy Memorial Hospital, where all nine are reported to be in fair condition.
An unnamed teacher who was one of the first on the scene told The Dandy Goat: “It was the end of the day, the children and the student teacher were probably tired, there were more than 30 students in the class, there was ink everywhere, children were crying, it was awful.”