A tribunal panel ruled Tuesday that a Cardinal Valley Elementary School teacher who dragged a nonverbal 6-year-old boy down a hallway in September should not be fired but should be suspended for the remainder of the school year.
The final order signed Tuesday said the boy with special needs started to dance and break away from other students in the school hallway. A video shows that Charlene Looney tried to take the boy’s hand. But he fell limp to the floor two to three times, refusing to comply. She then took the child by the wrists and dragged him through the hallway and into a classroom.
Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk notified Looney in February that her contract with the district would be terminated for conduct unbecoming a teacher, and she was placed on unpaid leave. But the panel reversed the termination.
In the final order, the tribunal panel said that before returning to the district as a teacher, Looney must enroll in a three-day training course for safe crisis management and repeat the course every year to keep her job. The district has to pay for the training.
Caulk voiced his disappointment in a statement issued Tuesday night, saying the “case is an indictment of a tribunal system that protects adults at the expense of the very children who need us the most.”
“Some will look at this case and say the teacher won. But the reality is that our students lost,” Caulk wrote. “The tribunal unanimously agreed with us that Ms. Looney exhibited conduct unbecoming a teacher in violation of school board policy and the Professional Code of Ethics. It is unfathomable, then, that a majority of the panel would allow her to return to teaching children with special needs.
“This decision is an affront to the thousands of teachers, principals and support employees in the Fayette County Public Schools who go above and beyond every day in the service of students. Members of our community entrust us with the care and education of their children, and the vast majority of our employees rise to that calling.”
Under Kentucky law, teachers and administrators who are fired or suspended by a superintendent may appeal the decision to a tribunal panel. The panel that heard Looney’s case April 5 and 6 consisted of a retired teacher, a retired administrator and a layperson. State law says they all have to reside outside the district.
The tribunal order said the special-needs teacher’s behavior in dragging the child down the hallway to the classroom “was clearly offensive and violated the accepted norms of behavior.”
The tribunal’s final order said Looney “admitted her behavior was totally inappropriate.”
“She was also admittedly frustrated in that the boy was not cooperating with her, and was having a tantrum, which was keeping her from getting the boy to class on time,” it said.
But the order also said that “the incident was very brief” and that the child “was not injured in any way.”
The final order described the child as being closer to a 3-year-old in terms of mental development and abilities, and it said he lacked the usual verbal skills associated with his age. He was characterized as having a mild mental disability. He had to signal his desire for water or to go to the bathroom. His behavior was that of a toddler. He cried easily, and had a tendency to go limp and become frustrated.
While theorder said the tribunal panel —and Looney — agreed with the superintendent that her behavior was conduct unbecoming a teacher, “she does not believe she should be terminated for a momentary lapse of judgment brought on by a very stressful and trying situation.”
Fayette County Public Schools officials turned over a video of the incident and their findings to County Attorney Larry Roberts, who declined to file charges.
Looney issued a statement Tuesday through her attorney Jeff Walther: “I am pleased with the outcome of the tribunal proceeding. From the beginning of this process, I have acknowledged that I acted inappropriately, and did not treat my student with the dignity and respect teachers should accord to all students. For that, I am sorry. I have learned valuable lessons from my experience, and I will return to work a better and wiser educator.”