Teacher acting ‘weird’ prior to incident
Administrators had received complaints from parents, students that something was wrong with teacher
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – New information related to the arrest of a Visalia teacher for a bizarre classroom incident shows administrators were aware of concerns raised by parents and students that the woman was acting “weird.”
Margaret Gieszinger, 52, of Exeter was arrested on Dec. 5 after she cut several locks from a student’s hair and then grabbed another student’s hair while holding scissors over her head as she played the Star Spangled Banner while belting out the words to the national anthem. A student cell phone video of the science teacher’s behavior during her first period chemistry class at University Preparatory High School (UPHS) has gone viral and made national headlines.
A police report obtained by The Sun-Gazette shows that students were fearful of Gieszinger as the teacher had displayed bizarre behavior before. The report was taken by Officer Kevin Mizner with the Sequoias Community College District Police, as UPHS is operated by the Tulare County Office of Education on the College of the Sequoias Visalia campus.
Principal Eric Thiessen provided police written statements from 20 students in the classroom. Thiessen also told police he had previously received complaints from a student and a parent about her actions toward getting students to not use their cellphones in class. He told police “she appeared a bit anxious” on the morning of the haircuts “but nothing that caused [Thiessen] any concern.”
The report includes statements made to police by both the male and female students in the video. The male student stated that at 8:30 a.m. Geiszinger announced that she was “giving free haircuts” and wanted a volunteer. The student decided to “play along” and volunteered to sit in a chair Gieszinger had set up at the front of the classroom and turned to face the rest of the desks. “[S]he had some type of scissors that looked like it was made to cut hair,” the student told officers. After she actually cut his hair, the student stood up and walked away, but Gieszinger ordered him to sit back in the chair saying that he was “not done.” After she cut more chunks from his hair, the student got up again at which time Gieszinger “began to go after other students and focused on one with long hair.”
A second student stated that Gieszinger grabbed her by the hair. The female student said everything appeared normal when she arrived for class that day. When Gieszinger announced all the students were “getting haircuts today,” the student wasn’t sure what to think because Gieszinger “was kind of a weird person, but really nice” and that “she sometimes says weird things.”
After cutting the hair of the male student in the video, the female student said Gieszinger asked for more volunteers. The girl said Gieszinger then walked toward her, held up the scissors and grabbed her hair as she told her no repeatedly and pushed the teacher away with her arm. The girl than followed several other students as they ran for the exit.
According to the report, Thiessen received a call from his lead teacher, Helen Milliron-Feller, at 8:35 a.m. that there had been an incident in Gieszinger’s classroom. When he arrived to the classroom, Thiessen said Gieszinger explained she was having problems with cellphones and so was having a “Hair Cut Day.” Gieszinger then told Thiessen the student had volunteered. Thiessen then told Gieszinger that she could not cut a student’s hair regardless of whether they volunteered. He then sent the science teacher home telling her not to return to class.
Milliron-Feller told police that a student came into the classroom that morning and was cutting a student’s hair and singing the national Anthem in “a scary way.”
When she arrived to the classroom, Milliron-Feller said she saw Gieszinger singing the National Anthem “loudly.” She also saw two students in the corner of the classroom, one of which was Gieszinger’s foreign exchange student. Gieszinger told them they could not leave but Milliron-Feller told the students they could leave and stood between them and Gieszinger as they left the classroom. Gieszinger continued to sing the song until it was over. Milliron-Feller said Gieszinger “did not have any remorse for her actions and said that the students would not stand for the anthem so she gave haircuts.”
Officer Mizner then called the Exeter Police Department to locate and arrest Gieszinger at her Exeter home and to confiscate the scissors used to cut the student’s hair. During a search of her home, Exeter officers found two pairs of scissors and several locks of hair in the front pocket of her purse. A female student provided campus police with five videos showing the incident in the classroom.
Gieszinger told COS police that she was tired of “the ridiculous behavior.” She said she was frustrated with a foreign exchange student living who was living with her and her husband in Exeter. She said she had had to talk with him several times about his “flippant” attitude in class. She also said he had also talked about wanting a haircut. Instead, a different student volunteered and came up to the front of the class.
When asked if she understood that her actions scared the students, Gieszinger told Mizner, “I bet.” She admitted that she does not like teaching and said she “guessed” that she had planned the hair cut prior to coming into the classroom that morning.
The news came as a shock to her husband, Peter Gieszinger, who had just learned of the incident at 3:45 p.m. that afternoon and said he had “no idea what could have led to the incident.”
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.
Rob Herman, spokesperson for the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE), 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.
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.