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Is it really this hard to fire a teacher?

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Jan. 19, 2010 at 7:44 pm with No Comments »
January 19, 2010 5:55 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

It’s understandable if a teacher occasionally loses his or her temper and yells at students. Few parents – who are most familiar with how easy it is to go ballistic when kids misbehave – would begrudge that kind of lapse.

But a Tacoma kindergarten teacher appears to have escalated from expressing exasperation to downright bullying. And the process the school district has gone through with him shows how hard it can be to convince an employee to find another line of work voluntarily.

Michael Barnett, who has been on paid leave from Lyon Elementary School since November, has been accused of grabbing one of his kindergartners and pushing her to the ground. A parent complained to school officials, who reported it to police. A report has been turned over to the prosecutor’s office.

It would be bad enough if this were the first concern the district has had with Barnett. Unfortunately, it’s the latest in a pattern of self-control issues. Earlier incidents include throwing a student over his shoulder and carrying him out of the classroom, demeaning a special needs student and using inappropriate physical force on other children. District records show that he’s been unprofessional, required excessive supervision and used poor judgment. He was suspended for three days without pay in March 2008.

After all this, one has to wonder: What does it take to get rid of a teacher in Tacoma? Apparently, quite a lot.

An internal district investigation is currently under way that could lead to Barnett’s termination. Or it might be determined that the evidence isn’t strong enough to proceed against him.

Either way, it’s likely to cost the district (it’s already paid more than $12,000 for him not to teach since he was put on leave). It will either have to pay to defend itself against Barnett, who is likely to fight termination. Or it will have to retain him – and face employing a teacher few parents would want near their children, one who poses a potential liability risk.

If the district isn’t able to rid itself of Barnett, here are some suggestions: Don’t let him near young children – perhaps beefier high-schoolers would be a better fit than tiny kindergartners – and either equip his classroom with a video camera or give him a classroom aide who could be a more credible witness than a 5-year-old.

Ideally, school districts wouldn’t let matters get this far along. The district says it’s required to go through a lengthy and “progressive” discipline process with their employees. That’s a nicety more considerate of teachers than of kindergartners.

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