Legal Reporting

Judge calls for Knaggs’s reinstatement

Story published Jan. 27, 2014
Story broke Jan. 27, 2014

Story broke here Jan. 27, 2014; additional stories published in The Apple Leaf Feb. 12, 2014.


ORDER DELAYED, DISTRICT’S RESPONSE PENDING

More than 70 days after a Chelan County Superior Court hearing, Judge Lesley Allan ruled on Jan. 27 to reverse the termination order of former Wenatchee High School baseball coach and PE teacher Ed Knaggs. District administrators still remain close-mouthed about what will come next for Knaggs.

Knaggs’ attorney Quentin Batjer confirmed that his order will includes attorney fees, back wages, and reinstatement. Knaggs has been paid through April 2013, Batjer said.

The back wages have yet to be calculated by Wenatchee School District. Knaggs was placed on leave in 2011, and during that school year, a database from The Kitsap Sun reports Knaggs was making $63,307 annually. Knaggs is requesting back wages from April 2013 to present, Batjer said.

The order was supposed to go before Allan today (Feb. 12), but the hearing was cancelled. The order will now go before Allan on a date to be decided. If both parties agree to the order, which Batjer said is unlikely, then the judge will enter the order. If there is disagreement on the wording and stipulations of the order, this will be the time that the parties can argue the details.

“When the order is filed, we will have to have an opportunity to meet with our legal counsel and review it and what options are available for the school board,” Wenatchee School District Brian Flones said, “and we haven’t had a chance to have those conversations, so it would be really premature to make any kind of statement about it.”

Knaggs was terminated in April 2012 on charges of “unprofessional conduct,” “flagrant disregard,” and “gross incompetence,” according to his termination letter, as the person in charge when freshman Antonio Reyes drowned in the high school swimming pool Nov. 17, 2011.

Knaggs appealed his termination, which per district policy, went to an administrative hearing last March. A hearing officer determined that Knaggs’ conduct was “egregious” and “flagrant,” deeming his termination to be justified, and thus upholding the school district’s decision.

Story published Feb 12., 2014
Story published Feb. 12, 2014

A second appeal went before Chelan County Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan on Nov. 15. Allan ruled that the termination order be reversed.

Wenatchee School District has until Feb. 26 to appeal Allan’s decision. The school board held an executive session on Jan. 28, but still had yet to make a decision on what they will do next. Board President Laura Jaecks declined to comment on any executive session discussions.

“There’s been no discussion to do that (appeal) at this time,” Flones said, in reference to appealing Allan’s decision. “The entire board has not reviewed it together with legal counsel.”

“I am concerned about our community, and this is a really tough thing our community is going through,” board member Jennifer Talbot said. “Know that our board is working very hard and looking at all the information in front of us.”

Talbot urges the community to write to the board through email or letters and provide input on the current circumstances.

“It’s always great to hear from our community,” Flones said. “If somebody is so inclined that they want to express their thoughts, then we will accept them and we will make sure that all the board members and myself have copies of it.”

The pool has since reopened and PE classes are using the pool now. Last spring, the school board passed a new policy that all freshman pass a swimming assessment.

Multiple calls to Knaggs have gone unanswered. Look at The Apple Leaf’s website whsappleleaf.com for updates on the district’s decision and what comes next.

DROWNING VICTIM’S BROTHER WEIGHS IN

A decision to terminate former Wenatchee High School PE teacher Ed Knaggs in April 2012 has left an impact on many students and teachers at WHS.

Now, almost two years after his initial termination, Knaggs is one step closer to a potential reinstatement after a decision from Chelan County Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan to reverse his termination order, leaving many in the WHS community pleased and supportive of Allan’s decision, while school administrators defend their actions.

“I think the whole process [the judge] followed was, from what I read, pretty much 100 percent how I feel. I think there was some errors in the process the first time,” PE teacher Scott Devereaux said. “Personally, I would like to see [Knaggs] have his job back if he wants to, but I’m not sure that will happen.”

Knaggs was fired following the drowning of freshman Antonio Reyes during Knaggs’ PE class. “People ask if I’m mad or something…,” Antonio’s brother, junior Jose Reyes said. “I’m not going to judge if he comes back, but it’ll probably be pretty awkward. I won’t be mad if he comes back. That’s just how it’s going to be.”

In in-person interviews, students, just like a lot of staff, are supportive of Allan’s decision.

“It’s a good thing. The judge said [Knaggs’ conduct] wasn’t necessarily malicious. It could’ve happened to any teacher – there wasn’t intention. It was an accident,” senior Sara Phipps said.

“I’m excited. A lot of us are hopeful that he’ll get his job back and coach again,” said junior Jacob Prater, who is a baseball player. “Knaggs is one of those guys you really want coaching on your team because he really gets to know everyone.”

Current freshman and sophomores were not at WHS when the drowning occurred, but have differing opinions. “I might not know enough about it [but] I wouldn’t feel comfortable in his class,” freshman Elaine Stiles said.

“I don’t think students who don’t know how to swim should be in a swim class,” sophomore Brandon Yesiki said.

“I think it’s premature to say what should or could happen, and how the district is going to react,” teacher Jon Magnus said, “But if the judge said [Knaggs] should be reinstated, then we need to respect her decision.”

“THE DISTRICT HAS NEVER NOT TAKEN RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT”

Judge Lesley Allan noted in her written decision that the hearing officer in the case determined that “the district, through the actions of superintendent [Brian] Flones, principal Mike Franza, and vice-principal Helm, violated the standard of care for the owner/operator of a swimming pool in a multitude of ways.”

“That was a fair assessment,” WHS Assistant Principal Gracie Helm said. “Now, with hindsight, there was a lot more to know, for all of us, in that area.”

WHS Dean of Students Mike Franza, who was principal of the high school at the time of the drowning, still believes the district complied with its requirements. “We met the requirements of the law,” Franza said. “Obviously, [Allan’s] determined that there should be greater guidelines.”

Helm added that in retrospect, absolutely she would have done things differently in oversight of the pool operations. “Anything we can do better to make it more safe, yeah, definitely, no questions asked,” she said.

“I think the hardest part is, every time there’s a ruling made, regardless of what the decision is, the family comes to my mind first and foremost,” Helm said. “As a mom, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to deal with.”

Helm, who was hired in 1997, has been the supervising administrator of the physical education department for a number of years. “When I [was hired], the teachers weren’t even certified lifeguards and at that point in time, I said, ‘You know what, I haven’t lifeguarded for a while – I’m going to bring someone in every two years to recertify you guys’,” Helm said.

Helm declined to comment on any form of reprimand she, or any other district administrator, received for their wrongdoing in “creating a situation where a student could drown,” which served as a key point in Allan reversing Knaggs’ termination order.

“The district has never not taken responsibility for it,” Wenatchee School District Superintendent Brian Flones said. “That was evident in the settlement with the Reyes family.”

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