Parents upset over school district's handling of teacher complai - CBS46 News

Parents upset over school district's handling of teacher complaints

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) - Almost nine months after the Washington County, Tennessee, Department of Education suspended a teacher, we're learning it wasn't the first time he faced accusations of unprofessional conduct. Instead, a month and a half prior, a teacher's assistant reported questionable activity.

Despite that report, the mother of the child who was the alleged victim is just now finding out about it and she didn't learn of it from the school district.

"They didn't call me, didn't tell anything about it," Jeana Abueida said.

Abueida says her 12 year-old son Adam has Asperger's Syndrome and anxiety issues. She says that's the reason he was placed in a behavioral modification class at Jonesborough Middle School. Today, she can't understand why almost a full year after a teacher's assistant in his classroom reported questionable activity, the school district never filled her in.

"It kind of dumbfounded and floored me," she said. "I felt like they should have contacted me the day that it happened."

Generally, the school system says students in behavioral modification classes, at times, will verbally or physically assault staff, students and sometimes themselves. As a result, their teachers have what's called non-violent crisis intervention training. The district says parents understand, when warranted, teachers may have to use that training to physically restrain students if they become dangerous.

That said, former instructional assistant Davi Sweeney says behavioral modification teacher Larry Manis crossed the line.

"He called Adam to the front of the class and grabbed Adam by the neck," Sweeney said. "Then he took a textbook, threw it against the wall, made Adam crawl on his hands and knees and retrieve the book. This went on three times. The third time he again picked him up by the neck."

Sweeney says it all started after the student spoke out of turn on Septembe 10th, 2013. She says she immediately reported the allegations to staff at Jonesborough Middle School.

"I removed the student from the classroom, took him to the nurse, showed her the marks and immediately went to the guidance counselor, assistant principal and principal," Sweeney said.

She recently shared her full story with Adam's mom. A roughly week after she reported her allegations, documents reveal the district moved Sweeney to another school "to best serve the needs of the Washington County School System" and eventually fired her at the end of the school year. She admits, she had some attendance issues due to what she describes as mental stress. She also makes no secret about her professional dislike of the teacher in question. So why did she wait so long to speak publicly? She insists she's not interested in retaliation.

"I feel like the children have been cheated and the children we were trying to protect, particularly the one, I feel like we let him down," she said.

Daniel Stiel is helping with that campaign. He filed a police report against the same teacher on October 30th, 2013, a month and a half after Sweeney's complaint. Stiel accused Manis of physically laying hands on his son Tyler on multiple occasions.

"He had been slapped in the back of the head, called queer, dipstick," Stiel said. "We actually sold our house and moved to Florida because of this."

Another parent filed a similar complaint that same day.

Documents show after learning about those October 30th complaints, administrators suspended Manis for alleged unprofessional conduct. A police report reveals the school system also called DCS the next day to investigate. Director of Schools Ron Dykes says the district also opened an internal investigation.

"I sent the board an email on October 30, 2013 stating that I had suspended Manis pending an investigation of unprofessional conduct," Dykes said in a recent email briefing to board members obtained by News Channel 11. "The Sp. Ed. Dept. investigated the situation and we involved attorney Pat Hull who assisted in taking testimony from Manis as well as several other employees. We prepared charges against Manis for dismissal."

On November 18th, 2013, Dykes sent another update to the board.

"We have completed a thorough investigation into the allegations brought against Larry Manis, the Jonesborough Middle School Sp. Ed. teacher who is currently on suspension," Dykes wrote in that same email. "I've been working with Pat Hull, the attorney who specializes in Sp. Ed. matters on our behalf. Charges are being prepared and are of such seriousness that I intend to move forward in pursuing his dismissal. The Special Ed. staff and Mr. Hull are in full agreement. If Mr. Manis does not resign after hearing the additional charges I will present those to the Board for consideration. The charges include articles of Conduct unbecoming, inefficiency, incompetence, neglect of duty and insubordination."

By December 16th, 2013, Dykes informed the board Manis intended to retire.

"Larry Manis, suspended Sp. Ed. teacher at JMS has filed a retirement application to be effective immediately," Dykes wrote in the same email. "That act will save us several thousand dollars in attorney fees."

Stiel returned from Florida to speak at a school board meeting Tuesday night and he didn't mince words.

"We want to know why Washington County didn't properly investigate and alert the parents of a child victim of child abuse when reported by a teacher's assistant," Stiel told board members. "I have nothing to gain for this except to be an advocate for children."

Dykes wouldn't say much at the board meeting, because Stiel has an attorney and is seeking a settlement.

"The school system will not and cannot make any specific and detailed response to Mr. Stiel's allegations," Dykes said. "Mr. Stiel is not just speaking as a concerned citizen. He does have an attorney. He is seeking money from the school system. We believe it is unfortunate that he has sought to involve the news media to apparently further his claims. He has had the opportunity to meet with members of the school system. These allegations have been thoroughly investigated...Any such claims and litigation will be defended vigorously and we are confident that there is no liability on the part of the school system."

Despite police reports spanning several years, Dykes maintains the district handled the Manis situation appropriately.

"The school system has responded appropriately as required by law and will continue to do so," Dykes said. "Mr. Stiel's allegations have been reported as required by law and investigated by the appropriate authorities as required by law and no wrongdoing has been found."

From the first report filed in 2008 when a family accused Manis of using force to take a child to time out to the September complaint filed by Sweeney, which Dykes says the school investigated, the districts says it followed all appropriate rules.

"We had four administrators involved the next day (on September 11th, 2013)," Dykes said. "The investigation did not support the allegation that the child was harmed or even agitated."

Because of that, the district never called Adam's mom. In hindsight, Sweeney wishes she had taken her complaint straight to law enforcement.

"Looking back on it now, I wish I had gone that afternoon and made a police report on my own," Sweeney said.

As for Adam's mother, she has more questions than ever.

"I felt like they should have contacted me the day that it happened," Abueida said.

Her son, who initially denied the claims, now tells her it happened.

"When I finally got it out of him he showed what he did," she said. "It really hurt that he had to go through that. It upset me that he had to endure what he had to endure."

We've been unsuccessful in our attempts to reach Manis for comment. It's important to note he has not been charged with any crime. However, First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark says his office has talked with Stiel and is looking at his concerns.

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