The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 4, 2007

EPS board fires teacher

By Tippi Rasp Staff Writer

A career teacher accused of mental and physical abuse and moral turpitude was fired by Enid Board of Education members Monday.

Mary Morgan, a special education teacher at Glen-wood Elementary School, is accused of pulling a student around the room by her hair, hitting and slapping students and dragging a student across the room by her feet.

Administrators also allege Morgan used discriminatory language by calling her students “retards.”

Enid Public Schools Superintendent Kem Keithly recommended Morgan’s dismissal after an investigation revealed alleged physical and mental abuse. Three paraprofessionals working with Morgan gave statements to school administrators Morgan was abusive to students.

Andrea Kunkel, a Tulsa attorney at Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold, presented Keithly’s case recommending the dismissal of Morgan. She said the paraprofessionals said they saw Morgan mistreat students on a number of occasions.

Morgan’s attorney, Richard O’Carroll, said if the paraprofessionals saw Morgan abuse children they also are guilty of not reporting the incident immediately.

Kunkel presented evidence former principal Ann Herndon, now the district’s personnel manager, also admonished Morgan for using inappropriate discipline measures in 1997. Kunkel said Morgan was disciplined after Herndon observed Morgan had tied a student to a chair using a white fabric. Despite the admonishment, Morgan received a good evaluation with only two marks for areas that needed improvement, O’Carroll argued.

The board approved the superintendent’s recommendations based on allegations including:

• Morgan put Elmer’s glue on the fingertips of one of her students because he would pick his nose during the 2005-06 school year. She laughed about it and said in front of the boy she would deny she had done it if the student told his parents.

• In April 2006, Morgan placed an adhesive bandage under a nostril of one of her students to prevent him from picking his nose. The bandage was in place for more than one hour.

• Morgan hit students over the last two school years. In March 2006, Morgan was slapped by a student and slapped the student back. In Feb-ruary of this year, she hit a student to try to remove him from a table. When the student hit Morgan, she began hitting him repeatedly and harder until a paraprofessional told her to stop.

• During this school year, Morgan pinched one of her students on the nape of his neck to raise him from a sitting to a standing position. As she pinched the student, Morgan told the paraprofessional,“You didn’t see this.”

• In February of this year, Morgan pulled a student off the floor by pulling him by the back of his pants and underpants. The same month, she repeatedly pulled a student’s hair to get the student to move from one place to another. Morgan also dragged the student across the floor by her feet.

• She referred to her students as “retards.” On Feb. 16, she told one of her paraprofessionals within earshot of students: “I’m just sick of the retards getting away with things in my classroom.”

Morgan admitted to accidentally pulling a student’s hair when it got caught in her bracelet. O’Carroll said Morgan apologized to the parent.

The allegations first began surfacing last February when Glenwood Principal Mary Beth Light took a complaint about a separate incident. During the course of the investigation, the three paraprofessionals gave statements alleging abuse.

Kunkel said paraprofessional Jennifer Diener witnessed a series of physical abuses. Diener said Morgan often said, “You didn’t see this,” as she was being abusive.

Kunkel described more than one instance when witnesses saw Morgan smooth a student’s hair back in a ponytail, then pull the student around the room.

“This happened repeatedly until the child was placed in a time-out area,” Kun-kel said.

O’Carroll argued Morgan was trying to cradle the 10-year-old girl, to protect her and her other students during an altercation. O’Carroll said former employees and current employees were either after Morgan’s job or disgruntled.

Kunkel said the recommendation to fire Morgan isn’t based on the quality of her teaching.

“This is a serious pattern of conduct,” Kunkel said.

Kunkel said the school district’s policy outlines a clear nondiscrimination policy.

“The use of the term retards runs completely afoul of that policy,” Kunkel said, calling the statement “simply malicious and outrageous.”

O’Carroll said Morgan was upset because she never had the chance to defend herself to school administrators.

O’Carroll said Morgan denies all the allegations against her.

“All of the accusations are controlled by the administrators,” O’Carroll said.

O’Carroll asked board members to instruct administrators to admonish Morgan and put her back to work.

“What you do tonight will have a large impact on her reputation,” O’Carroll said.

Kunkel asked board members to follow the superintendent’s recommendation.

“This is not an appropriate case for admonishment,” Kunkel said.

It took a little more than an hour to present the case and for rebuttals and surrebuttals. Board members spent nearly an hour in executive session before returning to open session with the unanimous dismissal vote.

About a dozen staff members and administrators attended the hearing. Several parents of current and former students of Morgan also were in attendance to show their support. Jamie Freelove’s son was in Morgan’s class for three years, and she said she never had any problem with Morgan. She said she enjoyed the teacher’s open-door policy and always felt welcome in the classroom.

Freelove said she didn’t understand the motives behind the stories told by the paraprofessionals in Morgan’s class.

Another parent, Teri Lemke, also attended the meeting to show support for Morgan.

“The children are suffering,” Freelove said. “My son doesn’t even want to go to school anymore.”

Morgan’s daughter, Ginny Garner, expressed dismay at what happened to her mother, saying the accusations were false.

“These kids are my mom’s world,” Garner said. “It’s shocking. How can this happen?”

Garner said her mom visits nightly with parents of her students and goes out of her way to assist her students. She said she always is asking for Garner’s clothes that no longer fit so she can pass them along to students.

“All you can do is hope the truth will come out,” Garner said.

Morgan has the right to petition for a trial in Garfield County District Court. O’Carroll told Morgan’s supporters he will ask them to return to support Morgan if they continue to fight the dismissal.