FRANKFORT, Ky. - The Kentucky Supreme Court is weighing whether actions by an award winning educator who disciplined an elementary school student constitute “conduct unbecoming a teacher.”
Justices heard oral arguments Thursday in a case that stems from a 2009 incident at Cardinal Valley Elementary School in Lexington. Teacher Rosaslind Hurley-Richards spotted three students running in the hallway. One of the children, a 7-year-old boy, refused to cooperate and at one point began pulling his sister’s hair.
Hurley-Richards then used one hand to guide the student toward the principal’s office, but as the boy resisted, he turned around. The teacher eventually had her hand around the boy’s neck and upper shoulders.
“This is a case of a child, a second grader, where Ms. Hurley-Richards met the child’s verbal words with that physical contact,” said Bob Chenoweth, an attorney for Fayette County Public Schools.
Former Superintendent Stu Silberman felt Hurley-Richards should be fired for conduct unbecoming a teacher, but a tribunal later ruled that the teacher be suspended for 18 months. That decision was overturned by a trial court.
JoEllen McComb, who represents Hurley-Richards, says the term “conduct unbecoming” is broad and problematic because it doesn’t carry a specific set of guidelines.
“Unemployment for a year and a half, a loss of wages and benefits for a teacher for a year and half, is a fairly severe penalty; we would submit way more severe than the facts of this case would justify.”
Hurley-Richards had no previous cases of behavior complaints. She earned the prestigious Milken Educator Award in 1996 and was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year in 1997. She remains employed by FCPS as a teacher at Liberty Elementary.