Supporters of an Edina teacher who was removed from her classroom after she communicated with parents about a scuffle with an unruly first-grader rallied in below-zero windchills Monday outside Countryside Elementary to demand her reinstatement.

Twenty-four marchers carried signs urging passing drivers to honk in support of Deborah York, and many did. The veteran teacher is on paid administrative leave while the Edina School District investigates whether she violated state privacy laws by communicating with parents about a Nov. 9 incident in which she tried to discipline a boy who had pushed a classmate into a desk.

Without identifying the boy or going into detail about what had happened, York sent an e-mail to classroom parents that talked about restoring a safe environment in the classroom and that mentioned she had been hurt in the incident. She also spoke to several parents about the incident.

Holding a sign that said "Honk If You Support Deb York," Molly Urbanski said she hoped the show of support would hurry the teacher's return to the classroom.

Urbanski and some other Countryside parents said they felt the school district's investigation into whether York violated the state's Data Practices Act obscured the real issue of classroom safety.

"They need to uphold the zero- tolerance policy that's in place," Urbanski said. "It's absolutely ludicrous. If you look at student safety versus Data Practices, we come down on safety."

Edina Superintendent Ric Dressen said in a telephone interview that he sympathized with parents, but that the district must follow state law.

"I truly understand that feeling and I respect that, but at the end of the day we have to follow the Data Practices Act," he said. "We are working as efficiently as we can to bring resolution to this and move forward."

Dressen said the district's investigation will be completed this week. "We will be working with Ms. York toward resolution in the matter, and then work with the families involved," he said.

York's supporters started an online petition seeking her reinstatement. Monday evening, it had 110 signatures. Last week, 19 of the 22 families that had children in York's classroom had signed a petition supporting the teacher, including the family of the child she had been trying to discipline.

According to York's attorney, the altercation in her classroom began when the 6-year-old boy pushed a girl into a desk. York sent the other students out of the classroom and into the hall so she could discipline the boy. As she tried to talk to him, however, the situation became more heated and York lifted a chair to fend off the boy, who then pushed her. The teacher suffered a sprain of her neck and back and was on sick leave when she found out that the district had placed her on administrative leave.

A substitute now is teaching the class, and a teacher's aide has been added to help keep order.

The boy involved in the incident is an open-enrollment student from Minneapolis. His 19-year-old sister -- who spoke for the family because her mother speaks limited English -- told the Star Tribune last week that he had been bullied by other students in his previous school in Minneapolis, and that's why he moved to Edina schools this school year.

After the November incident, she said, the family offered to move him to a different school so York would feel more comfortable about returning to her class. But the sister said Edina officials encouraged the family to leave the boy in the class to see if things improved.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380