JCPS fires Rutherford Elementary teacher after she hit student - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS fires Rutherford Elementary teacher after she hit student

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Rutherford Elementary School (WDRB file photo) Rutherford Elementary School (WDRB file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Rutherford Elementary School teacher was fired last month after investigators found she hit a kindergartner, held him in a choke hold and then let another child kick him.

Theresa Mason was initially suspended for 10 days without pay on Sept. 9 for the incident, which occurred in her classroom on May 5. She was fired by JCPS on Sept. 15, according to Mason's termination letter, obtained by WDRB in an open records request.

“This letter shall serve as notification of the termination of your employment contract as a teacher…on the basis of insubordination, conduct unbecoming of a teacher, inefficiency, incompetency and neglect of duty,” wrote Superintendent Donna Hargens.

Other documents obtained by WDRB show that the May 5 incident was reported to Child Protective Services on May 10 and occurred after a student had become verbally and physically aggressive in her classroom and allegedly hit Mason in her arm and her classroom assistant in the face.

According to the written statement by the assistant, Mason grabbed the student “by the back of his collar and held him on his tip toes while he grabbed at his neck and told (the other student) to kick him back” and that the other student obliged.

When Mason released the student “he immediately went and told his mother on the phone that ‘Ms. Mason choked me’ and was crying so I couldn’t hear (the mother’s response)," the assistant said.

Mason said in a statement that she did not “slap (the student). I did hold him in a choke hold and tell another kid to kick him. I may have grabbed the back of his shirt as he was running around the classroom taunting other students. I would never hurt any child.”

Mason's termination letter states that JCPS investigators substantiated she "hit a student on his arm" on May 5.

JCPS investigators also found that Mason “advised she has allowed other students to physically retaliate against a student when they have been repeatedly hit. She also stated that she has physically gone back and forth with students; however, not in an abusive manner.”

A signed statement from Mason says she did “hold (the student) in a choke hold and tell another kid to choke him.”

Prior to working at Rutherford, Mason was a guidance counselor at Fern Creek Elementary School. She worked there from 1998 until August 2013, when she took a voluntary demotion from counselor to teacher and was assigned to Rutherford Elementary.

During her time as counselor at Fern Creek Elementary, records obtained by WDRB show other complaints in which Mason was accused of not communicating with staff in a respectful manner and for failing to fulfill her duties as the ARC (Admissions and Release Committee), which is responsible for developing, reviewing, or revising a student’s individual education plan.

Mason also received a written reprimand in March 2012 for an “inappropriate comment made to fifth grade students.”

According to a conference held with Mason and Cheryl Rigsby, the school’s principal at the time, Mason admitted she said “wearing short shorts is setting themselves up for being raped and that the man at the bus stop would wait for their moment to snatch them.”

The reprimand, dated April 4, 2012, states that Mason admitted she could have handled the situation differently, but that you did not believe what you said was too strong for fifth graders.”

“This does not develop or promote a positive interpersonal relationship with your students,” the reprimand states. “In addition, it does not create a climate conducive to counseling which promotes the dignity and worth of these students. Instead, it creates a question in the minds of young ladies and a sense of guilt that they would deserve what may happen to them if they wear short shorts.”

Mason was suspended May 25, 2012 without pay for five days for yelling at a coworker in front of students and staff and on two occasions, special education students did not receive appropriate services due to mistakes in their IEPS 9 (individual education plan).

Rigsby met with Mason three other times in regards to concerns she was not carrying out her duties as ARC chairperson, specifically that documents were not being written correctly and that meetings were not being held as they should.

Over the past few months, JCPS officials have been investigating a number of incidents over the past decade involving student injuries, following Hargens’ Aug. 23 report to the Jefferson County Board of Education indicating that 14 employees were involved.

In that report, Hargens said the district made a "data entry discrepancy" in reporting to the state the number of times students were either physically held down or confined to a room during the 2014-15 school year.

On Sept. 14, JCPS suspended 10 employees with pay and reassigned to non-instructional duties throughout the course of the investigation. Incidents involving four other employees no longer employed with JCPS are also under investigation.

However, the case involving Mason is not among that group of employees.

Mason has appealed her termination to the Kentucky Department of Education and has asked for a tribunal hearing to get her job back.

Under state law, any certified public school employee who is terminated, suspended without pay or publicly reprimanded has the right to appeal the superintendent's decision to a tribunal. The panel consists of an active or retired teacher, an administrator and a lay person -- none of whom reside in the county involved in the dispute.

Mason could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Below is a copy of Mason's termination letter:

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