Margaret Gieszinger, 52, of Exeter cuts a students hair while singing the national anthem in her UPHS classroom
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – A Visalia high school teacher was arrested last week after a bizarre classroom scene in which she told a student to sit in front of the class so that she could cut his hair while singing the National Anthem and then threatened to do it to others.
During a first period chemistry class on Dec. 5 at University Preparatory High School (UPHS), a school operated by the Tulare County Office of Education on the College of the Sequoias Visalia campus, science teacher Margaret Alice Gieszinger appeared to have a nervous breakdown in her classroom.
Gieszinger started playing the Star Spangled Banner and then instructed a male student to come up to the front of the class for a haircut. Cell phone videos taken by students in the class show the teacher cut off a lock of the student’s hair and threw it over her shoulder while screaming the anthem. When the male student tried to leave the seat, she told him to come back. She then began walking toward other students with the scissors and the rest of the class ran out of the classroom in terror.
Campus Police responded to the classroom and began investigating the commotion. Later that day, Gieszinger was arrested at her Exeter home without incident. The 52-year-old was booked at the Tulare County Sheriff’s Adult Pre-Trial Facility on one count of child endangerment with bail set at $100,000.
“The staff at University Preparatory High School and the administration at the Tulare County Office of Education are deeply concerned for the students who were subjected to the disturbing behavior in Margaret Gieszinger’s class,” public information officer Rob Herman wrote in a released statement on Dec. 6. “To support all students on the UPHS campus today, we have sent top counselors from our mental health services program. They will continue to be available to the students as long as necessary.”
On Dec. 6, the COS District Police Department completed their initial investigation into the incident including review of videos and interviews with students and faculty/staff at UPHS. At an arraignment on Dec. 7, Gieszinger pleaded not guilty to one count of false imprisonment, two counts of cruelty to a child, two counts of battery, and one count of assault. Each count is a misdemeanor. If convicted on all charges, Gieszinger faces up to 3 years, 6 months in jail. She was arraigned on Dec. 7 at the county pre-trial facility and was released on her own recognizance. Her next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17 in Department 11 of the Tulare County Superior Court in Visalia.
Herman said Gieszinger will not return to her UPHS classroom and that a highly-qualified substitute teacher has been placed in the class for the remainder of the semester. UPHS administration will work closely with this teacher until a replacement teacher is hired.
“We take very seriously the safety of the students in classrooms and on the COS campus,” Herman said in the released statement. “We move decisively when questions of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct are brought to the attention of UPHS administration. In this instance, we promptly removed Ms. Gieszinger from her classroom and worked closely with the COS Police Department. We are reviewing all available information and will take the most severe employment action appropriate.”
Gieszinger has been suspended twice before in May 2016 and December 2007, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. No reason is given for the suspension. Gieszinger began her teaching career in 1997 but has only worked for TCOE since August. Her current clear credential was issued in 2015 and was not set to expire until 2020.
“At this time, we cannot discuss further the details of this matter out of respect for due process, student privacy rights, employee privacy rights, and law enforcement’s ongoing investigation,” Herman concluded. “We appreciate the prompt actions of the COS Police Department, and appreciate the patience and understanding of the community as we continue to handle this unfortunate incident.”