LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Newly appointed Louisville Metro Council member Vitalis Lanshima defended his actions as a special education teacher that ultimately led to his termination, saying Tuesday that he expects to win an appeal of the decision.
Jefferson County Public Schools fired Lanshima as a teacher at Ramsey Middle School on Oct. 24 amid allegations that he flipped a desk in his classroom, threatened to withhold lunch from his students and wrestled with a student.
Lanshima, who was appointed Thursday to fill the District 21 seat vacated by Dan Johnson and is currently suspended without pay at JCPS pending his appeal, said he did not disclose his job status at JCPS as the Louisville Metro Council vetted potential replacements for Johnson because it was under appeal. He added that he had not told his mother about his job situation at JCPS.
"I did not expect this to become an issue, because I know and I truly believe that my actions were either misinterpreted or wrong," he said. "I know that at the end of the day, my name is going to be cleared, and it's nothing for me or those in District 21 to worry about."
Lanshima, a teacher of nearly 10 years who is also an adjunct professor at Bellarmine University, offered his side of the events that led JCPS to seek his removal.
He said he never threatened to withhold lunch, but rather lunch time for his class had been moved after they were told on the first day of school that they were "too rowdy." When he took his class to the cafeteria at noon the next day, he said the lunchroom was closed.
He added that a school administrator misheard his conversation with a student, who said he wanted to stay in the cafeteria during lunch rather than join the rest of the class in their room, then changed his mind a couple days later.
On the accusation that he wrestled with a student, he said he developed a calm and lighthearted relationship with his class. Lanshima said a boy joked that he would tickle him one day, then grabbed his arms and fell down.
"I didn't see that as a big deal," he said. "... When the student was asked, from what I've heard, he wrote a statement to the effect that he did not wrestle with me, that he initiated contact and he was playing around with me, so I do not see how you go from both people who were involved indicating there was no wrestling involved, but you conclude that there was wrestling, and as such it's conduct unbecoming as a teacher."
When asked about the allegation that he flipped a desk, Lanshima said he was speaking one-on-one with a frequently disruptive student about his language and conduct in the classroom, then flipped a desk as the student had done.
"I did not mean to flip a desk to threaten him," he said.
While Lanshima is sharing his side of the situation and said he would take his job back "in a heartbeat," JCPS isn't talking about why it decided to fire him.
JCPS communications director Allison Martin said Lanshima requested a "tribunal hearing closed to the public" in response to his termination.
"The district therefore will have no further comment on this pending litigation," she said in a statement.
Lanshima said he wished he had been more forthcoming about the situation with his fellow Metro Council members as they considered him for the District 21 vacancy.
"I do not believe that is a disqualifier to be appointed to this position, but to be sincere with you, it's not something that even crossed my mind," he said. "... It was not something I thought about putting forth, because it never crossed my mind that it was going to be an issue."
With news of his termination spreading in the aftermath of his nomination as a Metro Council member, Lanshima declined to speculate on whether politics were involved in that information coming to light.
"Regardless of what the intentions were, I don't want to go into those intentions, but I believe those residents of District 21 have an opportunity to either retain me or decide that I am not who they want when the time comes in May," he said.
Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.