Story originally published in The Apple Leaf Nov. 27, 2013.
A Chelan County Superior Courtroom fell silent as Judge Lesley Allan took her seat. Allan remained calm and civil throughout the hearing, yet her words and tone heavily chastised Wenatchee School District for its failure to provide a safe working environment for PE swimmers and teachers, dubbing expectations as “completely inappropriate.”
On Nov. 15, just two days before the second anniversary of freshman Antonio Reyes’s passing, former Wenatchee High School PE teacher and baseball coach Ed Knaggs took his termination appeal to the next level – Chelan County Superior Court. Due to the length of the case, Allan has not reviewed all of the documents, which has delayed her decision on whether or not to reinstate Knaggs with back pay at least 30 days. The decision will come in writing.
Knaggs was fired in April 2012 following the drowning of Reyes in November 2011. An administrative hearing in March revealed that Wenatchee School District failed to follow state laws and Washington Administrative Codes while overseeing administrators were not up to par with what was occurring during the swimming classes.
In the original decision made by the hearing officer, he indicated that immediately following the incident, Knaggs didn’t know how many students were in his class. He also determined that Knaggs never assessed Reyes because he “forgot.”
Some basis in the hearing officer’s decision derives from the fact that “Mr. Knaggs’s actions deviated from his custom and routine teaching practices and were violative of his teaching duties and responsibilities for the students in his charge. His actions and his conduct likely caused and/or contributed to the drowning of student A.R,” according to his findings of fact document.
The hearing officer dubbed Knaggs’s conduct as “flagrant” and “egregious” on Nov. 17, 2011, which led him to uphold the decision to keep Knaggs unemployed. He determined that Knaggs’s conduct was “remediable.”
Knaggs’s attorney Quentin Batjer said that “egregious” and “flagrant” is on the basis of purposeful conduct, which he said was not the conduct of Knaggs on that day. He described Knaggs’s conduct as “accidental” and “inadvertent.”
Batjer also said that if a teacher has “ongoing effectiveness,” sufficient cause can’t be found to terminate them. He said that Knaggs’s conduct did not “undermine” his effectiveness. Batjer also questioned if a teacher could be terminated for violating a rule that wasn’t verbal, written, followed, or even aware of by district administration.
School district attorney Charles Leitch said that the district is not disputing what they did or did not do to comply with state laws and requirements. He also said that Knaggs’s effectiveness was undisputed. Moreover, they are disputing Knaggs’s conduct to understood processes that were “admitted” by Knaggs.
Allan asked Leitch if any other staffer was reprimanded for the wrongdoing by the high school, however Leitch left that question unanswered in the courtroom. Director of Human Resources Lisa Turner was asked the same question immediately following the hearing, but she referred all questions to Leitch, who has not returned any phone calls.
Allan also asked Leitch if a direct pool administrator would have seen Knaggs fail to assess a person in the swimming class if Knaggs would of been fired on the spot. No clear answer was given.
Batjer said overall that Knaggs is not harmful and that if the teacher is competent, sufficient cause to terminate doesn’t exist.
“Nobody is denying tragedy,” Batjer said.
Batjer noted that three different PE / swimming teachers from WHS testified in the administrative hearing that they had students in the past with unknown swimming abilities, similar to Knaggs, who sunk to the bottom and were rescued by other students prior to losing consciousness.