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Teacher Gets Probation for Fire

August 9, 2002

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A teacher who set a student’s newspaper on fire to teach her a lesson about reading in class was convicted of two misdemeanors and barred from returning to the classroom anytime soon.

Diane Montelius, 31, was sentenced to two years probation after Municipal Court Judge Wendy Pew found her guilty Thursday of possessing an instrument of a crime and recklessly endangering another person.

As part of the sentence, Pew ordered Montelius to have no contact with children in a school setting during the two-year period, which would keep her from returning to teaching. Because of that, her lawyer said she would appeal the conviction and ask for a trial by jury. She automatically gets a jury trial under state law.

Montelius, a history teacher at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, had told students not to read materials other than classwork in her room.

She allegedly became angry May 9 that a student was reading a newspaper in class. Investigators said she confiscated the paper, tossed it in a metal trash can and set it alight, then quickly dumped water in the basket to extinguish the flames.

No one was injured, but prosecutors said setting a fire in a classroom was reckless.

Montelius’ attorney, Brian McMonagle, said his client’s actions did not constitute a crime.

``It is certainly something that she would never do again in hindsight, but it wasn’t criminal,″ he said. ``She is just upset that she can’t get back in a classroom. We don’t feel we could accept a result that wouldn’t allow her to do that.″

She was placed in a non-teaching position after the incident and has since taken a leave of absence, McMonagle said.

Prosecutors had initially charged Montelius with a felony, arson, but reduced the charges in June.

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