Okolona Elementary teacher suspended, reassigned for 'unsafe beh - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Okolona Elementary teacher suspended, reassigned for 'unsafe behavior with students'

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Okolona Elementary School (WDRB file photo) Okolona Elementary School (WDRB file photo)
Darryl Watson previously worked at Myers Middle School near Buechel, as well as the Myers Middle at Waggener High School from 2014-2016 Darryl Watson previously worked at Myers Middle School near Buechel, as well as the Myers Middle at Waggener High School from 2014-2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An Okolona Elementary School teacher was suspended last month and then reassigned to non-instructional duties amid a district investigation into adult misconduct.

Darryl Watson was initially suspended for five days without pay on Sept. 2 for an incident on Aug. 19 in which he sprayed a special-needs student in the face with a water bottle for not paying attention, according to a disciplinary letter obtained by WDRB in an open records request.

An investigation determined "unethical behavior occurred," wrote Okolona principal Karen Stearman in the reprimand to Watson, which also stated he violated the state’s code of ethics which states teachers shall take "reasonable measures to protect the health, safety and emotional well-being of students" and "shall refrain from subjecting students to embarrassment or disparagement."

"You are expected to never use a water bottle to enforce the expected behavior of a student," Stearman said, adding that in the future he is to "demonstrate professional behavior at all times taking care to maintain the dignity and integrity of the profession."

The district later suspended Watson with pay on Sept. 14 for a "pattern of poor professional judgment and unsafe behavior with students" and ordered him to not have any contact with faculty, staff, parents or students at Okolona and that he was not to be on the school’s property.

On Sept. 19, he was reassigned from Okolona to non-instructional duties at the Lees Lane Bus Compound, which is where he was still assigned as of Thursday, according to Jennifer Brislin, a JCPS spokeswoman.

Watson, who has worked for JCPS since 2010, previously worked as an ECE teacher assigned to work with special needs students at Myers Middle School. He was reassigned to Okolona this summer, Brislin said.

While at Myers, Watson was the subject of several investigations, including a January 2012 allegation that he made inappropriate comments while teaching a geography class, a complaint he took two students to McDonald's in his personal vehicle during the school day and a September 2015 allegation that he used excessive force on a student.

All three allegations were substantiated by two separate district investigations, but records show he was never disciplined for any of them.

In the January 2012 incident, Watson had a discussion with students about diseases the Aztecs and Mayans experienced, including "blue balls" and sexually transmitted diseases men contracted from having sex with women and sheep.

In his letter to the district about the incident, Watson said the core content subject was on Mexico and he had a discussion about the "Aztecs, Mayans and the culture of that period."

"I explained how travel lasted for months, sometimes a year to get to Mexico from Europe," he wrote. "We talked about blue balls, syphilis and other STD(s). Questions continued to come because my students love to learn."

"I explained to them that because the trips were so long, men did not have sex," Watson said. "From that, they acquired a disease called blue balls. To stop that, they started bringing women on board, but they transported STD [sic] and that became a major issue. After that, they started bringing sheep, because they have the same anatomy of a woman."

Watson said he eventually changed the subject because he wanted the kids to remain focused.

"In our class, we laugh and make it entertaining while learning," he wrote. "We do not embarrass our kids. We keep it appropriate. As middle school students, this topic would be taught in health also. We make learning enjoyable by bringing real life experiences into the classroom."

The second allegation included in the January 2012 incident came from Child Protective Services which reported that Watson took two children "off campus in his private car without telling anyone and he said it was a secret. He took them to McDonald's and bought them a treat because they were so good that day."

Watson reported that the two boys brought their reading material with them to McDonald's and that he bought them some french fries and they returned to school. He stated he wasn't sure if he used the word "secret" but he did tell them not to tell the other students in the classroom.

In the September 2015 incident, Watson used "excessive force" to redirect a student’s behavior.

A district investigation -- which included interviews, statements and video surveillance – found Watson made physical contact with a student who he states was defiant and aggressive.

"Mr. Watson is observed gripping the back of the student’s neck," the report reads. "Mr. Watson is observed jolting (student) forward as he continues to hold onto the back of the student’s neck. Mr. Watson then escorts (student) into another area, out of the view of the camera."

However, it was reported by several adults that assistant principal Devon Roberts had to ask the physical education teacher to unlock the door to let her into the office because "Mr. Watson had shut himself and (student) in the office."

Watson denies the door was locked, but Roberts said upon entering the office, she observed him pushing the student and she had to give Watson several directives to allow her to take over in dealing with the student.

The investigation also noted that Watson was not currently certified in safe crisis management, a comprehensive program for preventing and managing crisis situations that includes instruction on how to properly use restraint.

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 them to non-instructional duties throughout the course of the investigation. Incidents involving four other employees no longer employed with JCPS are also under investigation.

WDRB has independently confirmed that at least two administrators -- Ramsey Middle School assistant principal Ronald Anthony Johnson and Moore Traditional School assistant principal Don Hudson, as well as two school security officers -- Kevin Watson at Breckinridge Metro High School and Paul Jarrell at King Elementary School -- were among those suspended.

In addition, Jodi Anderson, a Fairdale Elementary School teacher who had been the subject of several previous district investigations involving improper restraint, was also suspended on Sept. 14 – and was later fired by JCPS on Sept. 26. She has since appealed to the state.

The district also fired Rutherford Elementary School teacher Theresa Mason last month after investigators found she hit a kindergartner, held him in a choke hold and then let another child kick him during a May 2016 incident.

The case involving Mason is not among the group of employees mentioned by Hargens.

And even though records obtained by WDRB show Darryl Watson was suspended Sept. 14 – the same day as the 10 mentioned by Hargens -- Brislin would not confirm Thursday if he’s among that group of employees.

Darryl Watson could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

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