Panel reinstates Bullitt County teacher fired for dragging first - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Panel reinstates Bullitt County teacher fired for dragging first grader through hallway

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Former Brooks Elementary teacher Ashley Silas drug a first grader down the hallway on Oct. 29, 2014. The incident was captured on school cameras. Former Brooks Elementary teacher Ashley Silas drug a first grader down the hallway on Oct. 29, 2014. The incident was captured on school cameras.
Brooks Elementary School Brooks Elementary School
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Bullitt County teacher fired in November for dragging a first grader 160 feet through the hallway at Brooks Elementary is back on the job after a special appeals tribunal reversed her termination.

While her conduct was “shocking and offensive to virtually everyone,” Ashley Silas did not deserve to lose her job for dragging the serially disruptive student to the front office, according to a Dec. 23 final order from the three-member tribunal that reviewed Bullitt County's decision to fire Silas.

In a video of the Oct. 29 incident obtained by WDRB News, Silas is seen walking the student until he collapses onto the floor. Silas then drags the student by the arm to the front office while using her other hand to gaze at her smartphone.

“(I)t does appear (the first-grader) was not harmed and did in fact enjoy sliding through the hall and being the center of attention,” the panel wrote in its order requiring Silas to be reinstated beginning Jan. 5 following an unpaid suspension.

The tribunal also found Bullitt County Schools' training “inadequate” and ordered the district to pair Silas, who has been in the district for five years, with a “master teacher” for “weekly mentoring sessions on behavioral intervention.”

Silas, now a district-wide substitute teacher, acknowledged during the tribunal hearing that she could have handled the incident differently.

"Ms. Silas accepts the decision of the tribunal and looks forward to moving forward with her career in Bullitt County," Silas' attorney, Jeff Walther, told WDRB on Monday.

Kentucky law allows public school teachers to appeal a termination, unpaid suspension or public reprimand to a “tribunal” consisting of an active or retired teacher, an administrator and a lay person -- none of whom reside in the county involved in the dispute.

Bullitt County Schools Superintendent Keith Davis told the tribunal Silas' behavior was “so inappropriate that she could not continue to teach.” 

In a Nov. 7 termination letter, Davis said Silas had failed “to take reasonable measures to protect the health, safety and well-being of students” and “to refrain from subjecting students to embarrassment or disparagement.”

Silas also violated Bullitt County Board of Education policy stating employees are expected to use “sound judgment in the performance of their duties” to protect students, Davis wrote.

The tribunal agreed with the district that Silas had engaged in “conduct unbecoming of a teacher” and noted that Silas herself testified that, instead of dragging the student, she could have sent a trustworthy student to the office or sought help from the teachers she passed in the hallway.

Eric Farris, the attorney for Bullitt County Public Schools, called the tribunal's decision "frustrating" on Monday.

"We don't always have video in cases where we have allegations, but in this case we did," Farris said. "We are appalled by what the video shows and by her actions. 

"This is a clear cut case of inappropriate behavior," Farris said. "In what world does a teacher need to be trained not to drag a small first grader 160 feet through a hallway?"

Sen. Dan Seum, a Fairdale Republican whose district partly includes Bullitt County, said the reversal of the school district's firing undermines the authority of district's superintendent. He says lawmakers in Frankfort "need to take a look at this issue."

“How can you be in a position to hire a teacher but you can't fire them? You have to give them the power to use their judgment. It's why you hire them,” Seum said.

The tribunal process has been the subject of debate and proposed reform for more than a decade, and Seum says he believes it's time for another discussion. 

"This process is ridiculous," he said. "The overall safety our children has to be the No. 1 priority, and when they are in school, it is up to the schools to ensure they are safe."

When teachers are ordered back into the classroom, "it makes for a very difficult situation," Farris said.

"Teachers should have due process, but there has to be a better way," he said. "The law needs to be changed."

However, Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, the statewide teachers union, says her organization supports the tribunal process “as it stands.”

In a previous interview with WDRB, Winkler said once teachers obtain tenure – which takes four years – the tribunal process protects them from arbitrary decisions by superintendents.

“Kentucky has one of the longest probationary periods for new teachers, and we feel that is an adequate amount of time for administrators to decide whether or not a teacher should be in the classroom,” Winkler said.

A recent WDRB investigation looking at the results of tribunals over the past ten years found that fired educators in Kentucky have a good chance of getting their jobs back.

More than 70 percent of the terminations that went to tribunals in Kentucky from 2005 through 2010 were partially or completely reversed, according to data requested by and shared with the state's Interim Joint Committee on Education in November 2011.

A WDRB News analysis of 103 tribunal cases from 2011 through Nov. 26, 2014, showed that about half of the cases – 52– were settled before the hearing took place. 

Of the 51 remaining cases, the district's decision was partially or completely reversed in 12 instances, and completely upheld in 12 instances. Another 8 were withdrawn by the teacher and 19 remain pending.

Also last month, a tribunal upheld Jefferson County Public Schools' firing of former Male High School Principal David Mike following a chaotic testing environment and cheating allegations at the school.

Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, says the tribunals produce "erratic and inconsistent results.”

"They tend to try to craft a solution they think will make everyone happy or at least give everyone something,” Young told WDRB in November."This is a process that needs to be fixed."

This isn't the first time Bullitt County Schools has had a termination reversed by a tribunal.

In 2010, teacher Dale Beasley was fired by Davis following an incident in which Beasley allegedly grabbed a female fifth-grade student and pulled her to the front of the classroom because she didn't have a pencil.

Beasley had also been the subject of other previous incidents and disciplinary actions, according to his termination letter.

But the tribunal that reviewed the case gave Beasley his job back and directed Bullitt County Schools to pay for a “teaching professional” who was to supervise Beasley upon returning to the classroom and make recommendations as to how Beasley could better manage his anger and be more respectful and sensitive toward his students, according to the report.

The district appealed the tribunal decision to Bullitt Circuit Court, which affirmed the tribunal's decision.

Farris said Monday district officials have not yet decided if they will appeal the Silas case.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

WDRB.com reporter Chris Otts contributed to this story. 

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