Former Palatine teacher not guilty of hitting student with laptop
A former Palatine Township Elementary District 15 teacher was found not guilty by a Cook County judge of allegations she threw a laptop computer at a junior high school student during a French class early this year.
Judge Steven M. Wagner acquitted SueEllen Patkunas of the misdemeanor battery charge on Thursday. The ruling came more than a month after Wagner heard a day of testimony in the case in October.
"I legally can't comment on the specifics but can say publicly that I am greatly relieved to have my name cleared and can't wait to return to my profession as the loving and fun teacher that I have always been known to be," Patkunas said Tuesday.
The charge stemmed from a Jan. 22 incident at Winston Campus Junior High School in Palatine. Police reports showed the trouble began after a student refused to remove earbuds at the longtime French instructor's request.
Police said their investigation indicated that as an argument escalated, Patkunas removed the earbuds by pulling a cord and then threw the school-issued Chromebook, hitting the student in the face. The student did not require medical attention, officials said.
However, witnesses at the trial gave conflicting accounts of what occurred, according to defense lawyer James Doerr.
Doerr said the girl was listening to music on the Chromebook laptop instead of doing assigned classwork.
"Well, the young lady involved, she refused to listen," he said. "And so the only thing that happened -- and anything battery-wise was by accident -- was the teacher was forced to remove these headphones from an unruly and disrespectful student. That's what happened. There never was any Chromebook that was thrown at the student."
Patkunas, a Palatine resident, was placed on administrative leave during an internal investigation. District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said at the time that the "safety of our students is something we take very seriously."
Doerr said he hopes Patkunas can land another teaching job in light of the acquittal. Documents show Patkunas resigned Feb. 21 under an agreement with the district that provided her with final compensation and severance totaling $36,437.
"She has had a stellar career with absolutely no blemishes on her teaching career whatsoever," Doerr said. "She's a fantastic French teacher, from what I've heard from the students."
Patkunas previously worked in Grayslake High School District 127. She was affectionately nicknamed "Madame" at Grayslake High.