BOE upholds hearing officer decision

Published 4:31 pm Monday, May 13, 2019

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The decision to terminate the employment of a Claiborne special education teacher came after quite a lengthy appeal, held during the school board meeting last week. The teacher was officially fired due to insubordination and unprofessional conduct.

Defense attorney John Allen said the hearing officer made his decision by considering three incidents – the teacher was previously arrested for driving under the influence, arrested a second time for driving on a revoked license and a third time for threatening another school employee.

Allen said the defendant had already received a three-day suspension on the first incident, effectively eliminating the arrest as a reason to terminate his employment.

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The second charge of driving on a revoked license was due, Allen said, to a misunderstanding by the teacher when following the parameters of his restricted license. That charge was subsequently dismissed, he said.

The third incident centers on apparent threats by the teacher to his spouse and to a now former Claiborne school system coach. The two were allegedly engaged in an affair.

The alleged threats were sent via text and email.

Allen said that, in one instance, the teacher had discovered phone records, which he wanted to discuss with his wife. Instead, the wife allegedly packed up her children and left the home overnight.

“Not knowing (where his family was) was the worst part, for (the teacher). He made a foolish mistake by letting his emotions get the better of him, during a private matter. He was just expressing how he felt, in that moment.

“At no time did (the teacher) personally confront (the coach) about this. These are empty and unexecuted threats. In fact, (the wife) testified that (the teacher) had never laid a hand on her, or anyone else, or that he had ever hurt anyone, including her. She testified (the teacher) had never acted on any threat,” said Allen.

The attorney said the teacher should not be dismissed, due to the inordinate amount of distress he had been under, during that time.

Allen pointed to an incident that allegedly occurred on school property on the evening of Oct. 4. He said there is nothing in the charging letter that alleges any acts of insubordination or unprofessional behavior by the teacher.

“To the contrary, it was (the wife) who caused and created the situation. (The wife) testified there was a miscommunication between him and her, about who would be picking up their son. Instead of contacting (the teacher), she drove to the school, she banged on the gym door and told (the coach) that (the teacher) was on his way and had been drinking,” said Allen.

There was nothing in the police report to indicate the teacher had had anything to drink that evening. Further, there was no indication that the teacher went to the school campus to do anything but pick up his son, the attorney said.

To be found insubordinate or unprofessional, a school employee must refuse or continually fail to comply with directives by the board or the director, or to repeat the same type of behavior, said Allen.

He requested that the teacher be reinstated and given back pay. The teacher was out of work for nearly seven months, due to this issue. Alternately, Allen asked that the board modify the hearing officer’s decision and issue a short-term suspension prior to being reinstated to his teaching position.

Chris McCarty, who acted on behalf of the school system, said the hearing officer heard from nine individuals who gave testimony over a two-day period. In a 16-page decision, the officer gave four reasons for fully upholding the school system decision to terminate the teacher, he said.

McCarty read a few of the threats sent by text and email from the teacher to his wife and the coach.

The texts included threats of physical violence, according to McCarty.

“People can have sympathy for (the stress the teacher was under), but the school system’s job is to protect, at all times, the students and the faculty. When these threats were made, they were sent by one employee regarding, and sometimes to, another employee. That cannot be tolerated,” said McCarty.

The decision was upheld in part, he said, because of the teacher’s previous drunk driving conviction.

“We don’t believe that is professional conduct for an educator – someone who is assigned to be a role model for children, inside and outside the classroom,” said McCarty.

He said the teacher was essentially given a ‘second chance,’ following the DUI conviction, because of his excellent history as an educator.

During the initial hearing, the teacher did corroborate that he was told any further arrests or similar issues could lead to disciplinary actions, up to dismissal.

The board spent a bit of time asking both attorneys questions prior to the vote.

Board member Neta Munsey made a motion to revise the penalty to a one-year suspension. The motion failed, by a vote of four to three. Board members Munsey, Justin Cosby and Wade Breeding voted in favor of the suspension. Shane Bunch, Terry Keck, Linda Fultz and Shannon England voted against the measure.

The final vote to uphold the hearing officer’s decision to terminate employment was approved, by a vote of six to one. Munsey was the lone no vote.

She said earlier in the discussion that she had “a problem” taking one person’s word over another. Munsey was apparently referring to the events that transpired on Oct. 4.