LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The assistant principal at Ramsey Middle School was fired by Jefferson County Public Schools on Thursday following a district investigation into abuse and misconduct from when he was previously assigned to the district's now shuttered alternative middle school.
Ronald Anthony Johnson had been reassigned to one of the district's bus compounds in September amid a district investigation into adult misconduct involving student injuries alleged to have occurred over the past decade.
Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for JCPS, confirmed to WDRB that Johnson's termination letter was dated Monday, Jan. 10, and was made official Thursday. A copy of his termination letter, which exceeds 300 pages, was not immediately available on Thursday.
When contacted by telephone around noon on Thursday, Johnson told WDRB he was not aware of a letter and said he preferred not to comment about the district's investigation.
The district said Thursday evening that Johnson was terminated for "insubordination, conduct unbecoming a teacher, inefficiency, incompetency and neglect of duty."
WDRB first reported about the allegations involving Johnson in October 2015, when the district released the results of an open records request the station initially asked for in February 2015. The allegations stemmed from incidents that occurred at Kennedy Metro Middle School, which has since been closed by the district.
That investigation found that staff there inappropriately “put their hands on students” and did not report physical altercations when they occurred and that Johnson, among others, did not properly use Safe Crisis Management techniques to handle disruptive students.
The report noted that student accounts are consistent with regard to inappropriate physical interventions when having students go to the “calming room.” Students stated they were escorted with a hand on their back pant loop and one hand at their neck area. Two staff members corroborated this type of escort.
It also found that some employees at Kennedy Metro Middle would use the phrase “take the kids to church” implying to students they would be "taken into a room and a staff member (would) physically manhandle them."
Phillip Pettus, who was a safe crisis management assistant at Kennedy Metro, told investigators that Johnson rammed students' heads into walls. He stated he took his concerns to the school's principal, Don Reid, who told Pettus he would talk to Johnson.
"According to Mr. Pettus, these incidents would occur only in Dr. Johnson's office, as observed by Mr. Pettus," the report states. "Mr. Pettus explained that Dr. Johnson would point a finger in the student's forehead, smacking the forehead. As he pointed a finger into the forehead, the student's head would bounce on the wall with enough force to make a sound."
Pettus also told investigators he observed students being shoved into a "calming" room and that Johnson "frequently got into students' faces, screaming." He also said he observed Johnson "pinning students by placing his body weight on the student's back."
"This would occur on the couch in Dr. Johnson's office or sometimes on the floor. When it would occur, Mr. Pettus stated that he would 'tap him out' letting him know it was an unacceptable SCM (safe crisis management) assist," the report states. "Dr. Johnson would not always let him intervene. There were instances where Mr. Pettus had to get a little firm and tell him it was unacceptable."
Johnson told investigators the number of times he had to physically intervene with a student varies, but denied using or observing another staff, using their body weight to pin a student down, pointing/smacking a finger against a student's face or chest or ramming a student's head into a wall."
When reached by phone on Thursday, Johnson said he was unaware of any final action taken by the district and that he had not received a copy of the termination letter.
Over the past six months, JCPS has suspended at least a dozen employees, then reassigned them to non-instructional duties, while the district investigated "patterns of poor professional judgment and unsafe behaviors with students." Some of the cases are more than a decade old.
The move to re-investigate incidents that had been previously investigated and in many cases, discipline handed out, has prompted at least one of the district's unions to cry foul.
"The district has now taken the unprecedented action of re-opening old cases, of past altercations with students to determine if the discipline given was severe enough or if more is needed," John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, told his members in a December 2015 letter.
Superintendent Donna Hargens first referred to the employees in her report to the Jefferson County Board of Education on Aug. 23. During that meeting, Hargens told board members that the district's chief business officer, Tom Hudson, had "commenced a review of our ability to investigate claims of adult misconduct."
"We are using not only internal resources and personnel to conduct this review, but also our outside counsel, Middleton Reutlinger," Hargens said at the time. "As a result of this review, we have already taken at least one personnel action based on a review of past investigations. We are in the process of reviewing 14 other past investigations that involved student injuries and alleged employee misconduct, some of which go back to 2005."
Hargens told the board that Middleton Reutlinger has engaged a retired FBI agent, "on our behalf," to help go through the cases.
"The message is clear," Hargens told the board. "We have high expectations for the behavior of our employees. We will tolerate nothing less than our students being treated with the utmost respect and care."
In mid-December, two of the staff members received unpaid suspensions following reviews of their past interactions with students.
Security monitor Paul Jarrell returned to work at King Elementary following his unpaid suspension from Nov. 28 through Dec. 2 and elementary teacher Rhonda Swann was moved from Hawthorne Elementary to Bloom Elementary following a five-day unpaid suspension, district officials told WDRB.
According to a letter from the district, Jarrell was suspended over a previous JCPS investigation that found a student at the former Kennedy Metro Middle School suffered bruises and muscle strain after being restrained by Jarrell.
The past investigation said Jarrell grabbed the student by the back of the neck and the back waist of his pants. it also noted several witnesses indicated that Jarrell held the student on the ground, using his knee on the student's back.
JCPS has not publicly listed the employees whose past investigations are being reviewed.
However, the district has since allowed several employees who were under investigation to return to their assigned jobs.
In October, Kevin Watson, a security officer at Breckinridge Metro High School, returned to work at the school with no further disciplinary action taken against him, because he had already been disciplined for a September 2015 incident in which a student suffered a head injury after being slammed onto a table, according to a copy of an investigative report in his personnel file, obtained by WDRB in an open records request.
Watson and Breckinridge Metro High principal Stuart "Butch" Cripe have since been sued by the student involved in that incident.
In November, an assistant principal at Moore Traditional School returned to work with no further disciplinary action taken against him for a Feb. 2013 incident in which Hudson used an Aikido-style technique to restrain and guide a student to his office at Kennedy Metro Middle School. During that incident, the student received a bruise to the right side of his face and his wrist was broken.
Stuart Academy teacher Matthew Hand was also reassigned from his teaching position as JCPS reviewed a December 2014 investigation in which a substantiated investigation said he had held students' arms behind their backs.
Hand was allowed to return to work in November, according to a letter from Hargens dated Monday. He will also face no further discipline.
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