Legal Reporting

Knaggs’ termination upheld

Story published April 24, 2013
Story published April 24, 2013

Story originally published in The Apple Leaf April 24, 2013.

Hearing officer William F. Etter has upheld the termination of former Wenatchee High School teacher Ed Knaggs, claiming that his teaching was effective but his conduct on the day of the student drowning two years ago was “flagrant” and “egregious.” Blame for the drowning was also directed at district and high school administrators.

A decision in Knaggs’ termination appeal was made on April 4 after an administrative hearing that took place during the first week of March. Knaggs, a former PE teacher and baseball coach at WHS, was terminated in April 2012 following the drowning death of freshman Antonio Reyes.

“The hearing officer has upheld the termination,” said Wenatchee School District Director of Human Resources Lisa Turner. She declined to comment further.

Knaggs, his attorney Quentin Batjer, and the school district’s attorney from Seattle, Joseph Derrig, were all contacted for comment, however calls from The Apple Leaf were not returned as of press time.

A copy of the decision made by Etter was provided as a result of a public records request from The Apple Leaf to the Wenatchee School District.

Through student testimony and other facts that were brought out in the administrative hearing, the legal document highlights all key moments leading up to Reyes drowning.

Etter stated in the document: “Mr. Knaggs did not assess A.R. (Antonio Reyes’ swimming capabilities prior to the drowning) because he ‘forgot’,” the document reads. “Because he failed to assess A.R.’s abilities, Mr. Knaggs did not know, nor had he informed himself of the swimming abilities of A.R. when A.R. entered the water on November 17, 2011, during PE class at WHS.”

The district’s document goes on to say that “appropriate care governing the District and WHS forbids them from allowing one to act as a lifeguard while simultaneously teaching a class.”

“The parties stipulated that Mr. Knaggs was an effective teacher,” read the document.

Etter found faults with several school district officials, including Wenatchee School District Superintendent Brian Flones and WHS Principal Mike Franza. “Principal Franza made no improvement to instruction in the swim unit classes prior to the drowning,” read Etter’s document. “Mr. Franza was the person at WHS who was ultimately responsible for student safety.”

“I haven’t seen the document,” said Franza over the weekend. “But that’s true; I don’t have any problem with that.”

Assistant Principal Gracie Helm served as the supervising administrator to Knaggs. “Ms. Helm had responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the fitness component of the PE/Health Department, including the swim unit component,” says the document. However, it goes on to explain that Helm was unfamiliar with several Washington Administrative Codes (WACs) related to swimming pools, the type of lifeguard training that WHS teachers were receiving, and was “unaware whether the ARC (American Red Cross) lifeguarding principles had changed since she was a lifeguard in the mid-1980s.”

“I’m not familiar with that right now so I wouldn’t be comfortable commenting,” said Helm, when informed by The Apple Leaf of the decision. “I didn’t even know a decision had been made,” she said.

It wasn’t until after the drowning accident when the school district and Wenatchee High School put a “handbook” into place. WACs and school district policy require this “handbook” which indicates a mission statement, rules and regulations, and instruction for equipment use, among other specific required policies and procedures.

“If these procedures had been in place on November 17, 2011, it is unlikely that A.R. (Antonio Reyes) would have drowned,” concludes the Wenatchee School District document.

Etter referred to “unique circumstances in this matter.” His final decision indicated that Knaggs’ conduct was “likely inadvertent, unintentional and remediable,” but was in violation of “longstanding and adhered to policies and procedures for student safety.” It described Knaggs’ actions as “egregious” and “flagrant” conduct.

“Despite the best efforts of swim teachers to fulfill all duties required of them by the District and WHS and to protect student safety, the lack of proper training, personnel, and oversight would lead to swim teacher mistakes,” read the legal document.

“A lot of people are disappointed in that finding (an upheld termination),” said AppleSox owner Jim Corcoran. Corcoran oversees Knaggs, the AppleSox head coach. “I thought for sure Ed’s case was a solid one.”

PE department co-chair Maureen Rix declined to comment on the decision.