By Curt Yeomans
A Clayton County Public Schools employment tribunal is recommending that Brian Galloway, a physical education teacher at Riverdale High School, be fired for fighting back against a student who attacked him last month.
The recommendation comes in spite of the Riverdale Police Department's decision not to charge the teacher with any crimes, after determining that the educator acted in self-defense.
It took the three-person panel just under an hour and a half to reach its decision, said Clayton County Public Schools Paralegal Latasha Lowe. "The tribunal panel accepted the superintendent's recommendation to terminate his employment," she said.
The panel's recommendation will now go to the Clayton County Board of Education, for its approval, or denial. According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) 20-2-940, the school board will have 10 days, after receiving the hearing transcript, to make its decision. If it decides to fire Galloway, he can appeal to the Georgia Board of Education.
Almost every witness who testified during the tribunal hearing said the same events transpired: The student, a 16-year-old freshman at the school, was late to his physical education class. Galloway told him to get a note for being tardy. The pupil then cursed the teacher. Galloway cursed back at the student, who then, reportedly, pushed, and swung at, the educator. Galloway then swung back, tackled the student, and the fight continued until the two were pulled apart. At some point, the student bit Galloway's hand.
But, Galloway, who acted as his own attorney, and Clayton County Public Schools Attorney Winston Denmark, offered different interpretations of those actions.
Denmark argued that Galloway was to blame for the fight, because he cursed back at the youth. "Instead of acting like an adult, he allowed himself to de-evolve to the student's level," Denmark said. "You don't use that kind of language with a student, if you're a professional teacher. That alone was enough to merit termination."
Without an attorney to guide him, Galloway struggled to defend himself. He offered little in the way of a defense, and at times, had to receive advice from the tribunal hearing officer on how to argue a case. He said he fought back only after he was provoked by the youth. "I didn't attack the student, it was self-defense," he said.
"This has put in jeopardy a career I went to school for six years to get into," he said. "I do not believe this recommendation is fair to me."
After Riverdale High School's resource officer investigated the fight, the officer decided not to arrest Galloway and charge him with any crimes, since the student appeared to have started the fight, Riverdale Police Chief Samuel Patterson told the Clayton News Daily on Dec. 11.
The officer did arrest the student, however, and charged the youth with battery and disorderly conduct. "These types of incidents are few and far between, but students will act out, if they think there won't be any punishments," Patterson said at the time.
Even Riverdale High School Principal Terry Young testified that he did not know how he would have reacted, if he had been in Galloway's shoes. Young said he's never been attacked by a student. However, he also said he has seen a student hit a teacher once before, and the teacher in that case fought back, just like Galloway did.
"In most cases, if a student hits a teacher, natural instincts are going to take over," Young said. "They have to protect themselves."
Young also said Galloway is in his first year of teaching at Riverdale, and he was not aware of any other instances where the teacher cursed at a student. In fact, the principal said Galloway was overall a good teacher. "On a daily basis, he did his work," Young said. "He came to school on time every day. He was a pretty model P.E. teacher."
Young did say that he thought Galloway made a misstep by cursing back at the student. "Any time an adult uses profanity in an educational setting, I consider it to be unprofessional," he said.
In addition to Young, the school system's witness list included three students who witnessed the fight, another physical education teacher at the school who broke up the fight, Clayton Schools Personnel Investigator Andra Cherry and Chief Human Resources Officer Douglas Hendrix.
The glaring omission from the witness list, though, was the student who actually fought with Galloway. School System Attorney Winston Denmark said he wanted the youth to testify, but the student dropped out of school two days after the fight, moved to another state, and did not want to return to testify against his former teacher.
Galloway chose not to testify, also. Denmark could not be reached for comment after the panel's decision was announced. Galloway took a reporter's telephone numbers, while the panel was deliberating, but the reporter did not receive a reply from him on Thursday.