The Akron school board has fired Melissa Cairns, a former math teacher at Buchtel Community Learning Center who had posted photos of her students’ duct-taped mouths on her Facebook page in October.
Cairns, 33, had taught in Akron for five years at Garfield, Firestone and then Buchtel CLC. Before that, she had resigned a part-time position at Kent City Schools because of provocative comments and photos on her MySpace page later discovered by her students.
Akron placed Cairns on paid leave in October when school administrators noticed the Facebook photos of her duct-taped middle school students captioned, “Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!”
Cairns later said it was a “stupid” thing to do. She was placed on unpaid leave in January pending an investigation by a referee appointed by the teachers union and school administrators.
According to Cairns’ testimony, a student had requested the duct tape from Cairn to repair a binder and then placed the duct tape on her own face after Cairns had previously mentioned that the class was too talkative.
Cairns took the photo “because she thought it was funny,” the referee’s report stated. “At least one student said he didn’t want to be in the picture because he did not find it funny.”
The school board voted Monday to fire Cairns.
‘‘At this point she should be receiving a certified copy of that resolution,” said Rhonda Porter, general counsel for Akron schools. “And she’s entitled to appeal in court.”
Several cases involving teacher misconduct and other litigation have also been postponed or resolved.
In the case of Scott Bennett, Superintendent David James and other district employees have been subpoenaed to appear May 31 before Judge Thomas A. Teodosio in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
Bennett, a former non-licensed employee in the grounds and maintenance department, won a series of court cases and appeals after the school district asserted that he had lied on an application and was unemployable by state law. That last part hasn’t changed, Porter argues.
Bennett, fired in 2008, is entitled to as much as $150,000 in back pay and reinstatement. But when he is reinstated, Porter said he will have to answer for a 20-year-old assault charge that deems him unemployable by Ohio Revised Code.
That puts the board, which has been ordered by a court to issue a resolution of back pay and rehire Bennett, in a quandary.
“The board looks at me and says, ‘so we’re supposed to violate the law.’ I can’t tell them to violate the law. I just can’t,” said Porter.
Porter hopes that the court issues Treasurer Jack Pierson amnesty in issuing Bennett his back pay. Porter said Pierson could be personably liable should he “misappropriate” taxpayer funds.
In another personnel issue, a conduct hearing has been postponed until June 24 by the Ohio Department of Education regarding Michelle Blain, a special education teacher at Ellet High School.
A classroom aide accused Blain of mishandling special education students. Those claims included forcibly holding a student’s head down, force-feeding another student and using derogatory terms to refer to special education students.
Blain was exonerated of all charges through a joint investigation by Akron schools and Summit County Children Services. But superintendent James has said that his recommendation would be based on the outcome of the state’s investigation.
The hearing had been originally delayed at the request of the teacher’s attorney. Blain, meanwhile, remains on staff and is still teaching at Ellet.
A $75,000 lawsuit filed by former Firestone boys basketball coach Joseph Wojcik and the Akron Teachers Association has been remanded from federal district court and is scheduled for pretrial before Common Pleas Judge Judy L. Hunter on June 20.
Wojcik filed the lawsuit after an impartial investigator found the former coach had not embezzled booster funds. The board rejected that opinion and voted not to reinstate his coaching contract in 2011, aligning with public discontent over the coach.
“I truly tried to work out something,” Porter said of attempts to reach an “amicable” solution with Wojcik. “I was not successful in doing that.”
“I believe in closure,” she said of the cases involving Wojcik, Bennett, Blain and Cairns.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.