By Steve Gunn
The latest evidence of this sickening trend comes from Kewaskum, Wisconsin, where the school board fired a middle school special education teacher in 2010 for allegedly using excessive force with students.
Linda Kiser was accused by various witnesses of pinching students in the neck and shoulder area, pulling them by the arms and pushing them into chairs, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
If even some of the accusations are true, she should be a former teacher by now.
But her union, the Kewaskum Education Association, decided she deserved to be defended, and they took her case to arbitration following her termination. Kiser reportedly admitted to the arbitrator that she used physical force to control special needs students, but not to the degree alleged by witnesses.
Two months ago the arbitrator decided she only deserved a 30-day suspension and ordered her reinstatement to the classroom.
According to the news report, the arbitrator refused to give much credence to the testimony of student victims unless their complaints were backed up by adult witnesses.
Last week the school district asked a Washington County Circuit Court judge to overturn the arbitrator’s ruling, claiming it “represents deliberate indifference to the likelihood that more students will be deprived of the full benefit of educational programs to which they are entitled,” and “places students at the risk of physical abuse.”
Now school officials must wait and see how the judge reacts to their petition. There is a very real possibility that Kiser could be back in a classroom sometime in the next academic year.
Arbitrators have too much power
Credit for this outrage goes to the local teachers union.
Reasonable people would have to question whether Kiser should be allowed to teach again. Perhaps her actions against students were not criminal in nature. Nobody seems to be claiming that any children were seriously hurt in a physical sense.
That’s not the point.
It’s obvious, from her own admission of resorting to physical force, that Kiser may lack the patience to work with special needs. Any teacher who has to resort to pushing or pulling to control students should consider a different line of work.
The Kewaskum school board has a responsibility to protect students from ill-tempered teachers, and that’s exactly what it was trying to do when it voted to fire her.
But now the law is telling the school board that it has no right to remove a dangerous or threatening teacher from its payroll.
One truly disturbing aspect of this case involves the state-appointed arbitrator. For years the Wisconsin arbitration system has been used by the unions as a tool to extort millions of dollars from cash-strapped school districts during collective bargaining disputes.
Now the unions are using pet arbitrators to keep dangerous teachers on the payroll, and their decisions might be final.
According to the Journal Sentinel story, “The attorney representing the Kewaskum Education Association said the district’s decision to appeal the thorough and factually supported arbitration decision is unlikely to succeed since no legal basis exists to vacate the arbitrator’s conclusion of law.”
Whether the decision was “thorough” or “factually supported” is beside the point. Apparently there is no legal apparatus in Wisconsin to challenge the decision of a state arbitrator. If that’s the case, then the Wisconsin legislature needs to quickly rewrite all laws pertaining to the arbitration system, or perhaps scrap it altogether.
That much power in the hands of one person can have dangerous implications, especially for school children.
They know all about this problem on the coasts
Officials in New York City and Los Angeles are feeling the same type of frustration that the Kewaskum school board must be experiencing right now.
Both cities have been hit with a recent epidemic of teachers abusing students, frequently in a sexual manner.
In New York, more than a dozen teachers have been reinstated in recent years following allegations of improper conduct with students. In just one of many cases exposed this year, a high school teacher was accused of pressing his genitalia against a female student’s leg. Even though an arbitrator found that “the girl’s charge was likely true” and the teacher had faced a similar accusation before, he was given a 45-day suspension.
In Los Angeles, two elementary school teachers were recently arrested for allegedly forcing students to drink a liquid that included their bodily fluids.
Under the current system in both states, firing an abusive teacher can take months and cost schools six figures in legal fees. And sometimes arbitrators (in New York) or a special panel (in Los Angeles) choose to reinstate the accused teacher.
“Why would arbitrators throw kids to the wolves?” asked a recent editorial in the New York Daily News. “Because they make a living deciding such cases – and because they are hired by joint agreement of the Education Department and the (teachers union). They well know that if they toss teachers out of work, the union will do the same to them.”
Officials in both cities recently pressed their state lawmakers to pass bills giving schools the final authority to fire teachers accused of misconduct with students.
But in Albany, New York, union influence kept the requested legislation from gaining serious consideration before the state legislature went into summer recess. In Sacremento, California, union lobbyists killed a similar bill in the state Assembly after it had already passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
Honest journalists in both markets put the blame where it belonged.
“Teachers are not swiftly fired when they are caught with their pants down,” the New York Post’s Andrea Peyser wrote in a column. “Instead the United Federation of Teachers backs an arbitration system, run by ninnies, that does back flips to prevent teachers from getting ousted.”
“Anyone who wonders why a school district can’t dismiss a teacher accused of molesting kids might want to direct that question to the California Teachers Association,” the Los Angeles Daily News wrote in an editorial. “Or ask the California Federation of Teachers, or United Teachers Los Angeles, or the handful of cowardly legislators who let Senate Bill 1530 die last week in committee.”
The unions should know that the people are watching, and they are not impressed with the disgusting effort to keep teachers of questionable character on the job.
If they continue down this path, the unions can count on losing the last bit of public support they still manage to cling to.