Story originally published in The Apple Leaf May 15, 2013.
Most Wenatchee High School staff members interviewed by The Apple Leaf sympathize with Ed Knaggs, saying it would be hard for someone who loved kids to lose a teaching job. Of 14 staffers interviewed, only one completely agreed with the decision to terminate the former PE teacher. Eight staffers said those in leadership, either at the high school or district level, should be held accountable.
Every staffer who was interviewed declined to be identified. Most were leery of sharing their opinion and four declined to comment. One staffer made a reference to their paycheck, implying that even an anonymous comment could result in retaliation.
When the student drowning took place in November 2011, a clear set of pool policies were not in place. “I feel like it was a system failure, not a teacher failure,” a staffer said.
The hearing officer talked about the lack of district policies in his final decision, but since the incident, the school district has implemented a handbook for pool use. “If you don’t have a system in place, people are people, and errors will occur,” said a staffer. “It’s so easy to point fingers and pass blame after the fact,” they added.
A different staffer said that any pool manager in the state would know that “it wasn’t safe” in the pool prior to the drowning.
“I think both parties are at fault,” said one staffer. “Proper procedures weren’t in place, but I keep getting back to two different legal proceedings [that] have [found] negligence on Ed’s part,” they said.
“There’s a larger issue,” said another WHS staffer. To them, it’s “inconceivable” that no WHS administrator was reprimanded. “The situation wasn’t safe and nobody [besides Knaggs] has been held responsible,” they said.
The one staffer who agreed with the school district’s decision to release Knaggs said, “I completely appreciate the position that the school district is in.” The staffer said it would be difficult to justify to parents how a student could be placed in the care of a teacher who previously had a student drown on their watch.
Another staffer thought that the blame, if any, should be passed to school district administrators.
Yet another teacher said no one should be punished to the extent of losing their job. Rather, they believe that Knaggs should have been placed on some type of probationary plan for maybe two years.
SCHOOL DISTRICT ROLE
In the hearing officer’s final decision document, he disclosed that Knaggs sent a WHS administrator an email 10 days before the accident saying there were “more students than normal who claim they cannot swim.” A staffer noted, “A lot of needs in our district go unmet and often the reason is we don’t have money to meet those needs.”
That was confirmed by another staffer, who said that they understand the PE department did request additional money in their budget prior to the accident, perhaps for more safety resources, but did not receive the funding.
A staffer referred to an “attitude” from the school district administration along the lines of “we [administrators] know what’s best.” The staffer said that leaves some teachers feeling “frustrated.”
After all that Knaggs has been through, a staffer said, “I know now as a teacher [that] if something bad happened in my class, I don’t feel [that] the district office would stand by me.” That staffer doesn’t think that Knaggs has been supported by the district.
Both PE department chairpersons, Ron Reeves and Maureen Rix, declined to comment. “I know they’ve been through hell,” a staffer from a different department said. “They’ve been traumatized too.”
Some teachers discussed what they thought of Knaggs on a personal level. “We always talked and he’s a really nice man; he really loved his job,” a staffer said.
“Teachers want to come out in support of him because we could all potentially be in his situation,” said the staffer who agreed with the district’s decision. “We all know that could be any of us; it’s horrifying.”
“Ed is a fine man and he’s a good teacher and he cared about his students,” a different staffer commented.
Another staffer became emotional during the interview. “The hardest and best part of this job is getting to try and help – and so I cannot imagine his pain,” they said, “and the fact that he can’t be a teacher.”
“It was a terrible accident,” said another staffer, “and sometimes you can’t explain accidents.”