Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Scoop on Silberman v Hurley-Richards

Teacher Disciplined for
Conduct Unbecoming a Teacher

Related to alleged Mishandling
of a 2nd Grade Child in 2009

Circuit Court Reverses

District's Appeal Set for April

Court records reveal that on-going legal action between Rosalind Hurley-Richards and Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman is a disciplinary matter where Hurley-Richards was accused of, and disciplined for, conduct unbecoming a teacher. It has to do with the alleged mishandling of a child.

Rosalind Hurley-Richards was on bus duty at Cardinal Valley Elementary school on February 3, 2009 when she got into a fuss with a second grader identified as ZK.

Hurley-Richards observed three siblings in the hallway and the two youngest were running. The kids ignored her instructions to walk until the eldest child told the siblings to walk. To correct the misbehavior, Hurley-Richards asked the children to go back up the hall and walk back down properly, but ZK, ran yet again. When Hurley-Richards fussed at the youngster, he delivered that infamous line all teachers love to hear, "You can't tell me what to do!"

The teacher instructed the other two children to go on to breakfast while she spoke to ZK, but the kids got into some kind of fight which involved ZK pulling his little sister's (EK) hair while elder sister MK pulled EK by the hand. Hurley-Richard then put her hand around ZK's waist to separate him. As instructed, the girls EK & MK began to move toward the office but not ZK. He refused, squirming and twisting such that the teacher had to physically propel him up the hallway. As ZK resisted, Hurley-Richards' arm was "across the student's front in a manner that may have been perceived as choking." ZK protested that Hurley-Richards was choking him, which she disavowed. When they reached the office the physical contact ended. Hurley-Richards passed the matter off to the principal Yvonne Beegle. (In the interest of full disclosure, Beagle was a student of mine at UK, of whom I think highly.) An examination by officer David Collins revealed no injury.

But there was an eyewitness who saw things differently. Kindergarten assistant Sheri Jones Hall would later testify that it appeared to her that Hurley-Richards had the child around the neck. But she did not feel compelled to intervene.

Superintendent Silberman determined that Hurley-Richards conduct was inappropriate and he charged her with conduct unbecoming a teacher. On the afternoon of the incident, Hurley-Richards was informed that she was suspended without pay. She was notified on February 27th that her contract was terminated.

Hurley-Richards exercised her right to a hearing before an Administrative Tribunal. The Tribunal met April 23 & 24 and on September 1, 2009. The members were Deborah DeHoag a JCPS teacher; Marilyn Hafley a Lincoln Co administrator, and Franklin County layperson Jane Kelly. The hearing was held in private and took testimony from seventeen witnesses including Hurley-Richards and Silberman.

The Tribunal determined that Hurley-Richards had no intent to harm ZK and that he, indeed, suffered no harm. But they remarked that they found the eyewitness testimony "particularly reliable" and Hurley-Richards to be "generally truthful and reliable" but "influenced by self-interest and later events." The Tribunal rejected the notion that she was delicately guiding ZK forward with a gentle hand on his backpack, as she testified, but found no intent to harm. Still, the Tribunal found that Hurley-Richards exercised poor judgment in continuing to apply force after ZK complained about choking, and ordered her into safe physical management training.

The Tribunal also rejected Silberman's disciplinary action, modifying it to suspension without pay through June 30, 2009.

Hurley-Richards appealed to the Fayette County Circuit Court on grounds that her conduct did not constitute conduct unbecoming a teacher and that her punishment was excessive and beyond the authority of the Tribunal.

On April 20, 2010, Judge Ernesto Scorsone's trial court ruled that the conclusions of the Tribunal were "without support of substantial evidence on the whole record" and provided "no evidentairy basis on which to support any suspension without pay." The court found Hurley-Richards' conduct reasonable, and the Tribunal's conclusions incorrect. Scorsone reasoned that Hurley-Richards was maintaining order in the hallway following ZK's attack on his sister and that she had reason to believe ZK posed a risk which would justify physical restraint.

The district is now appealing the Circuit Court ruling citing KRS 13B.150(2), which reads, "The court shall not substitute its judgement for that of the agency as to the weight of evidence on questions of fact." So the primary question under review is whether the trial court misapplied the standard of review called for in the law.

Joellen McComb and Arthur Brooks represent Ms. Hurley-Richards. Bob Chenoweth represents the district.

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