Crime & Courts

Courts refuse to restore job for CMS teacher fired for slapping student

A slap cost Amy Diamond her school job. Now, after a two-year legal fight, it appears she will not get it back.

Diamond, a teacher supervisor, had almost 20 years of experience in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools with what her attorney called excellent job evaluations. But on Feb. 2, 2011, she struck a Bailey Middle School student who had cursed her and others and had refused to follow teacher directions during the school’s first-ever bomb-threat evacuation. She was fired later that year.

In April, the state Supreme Court declined to hear Diamond’s appeal of her firing.

Reached Wednesday at her home in Davidson, Diamond declined to comment, saying “the episode remains too painful to revisit.”

However, her case reveals the pressures CMS faculty can face, even at suburban campuses such as Bailey, which is in Cornelius and has one of the lowest poverty levels in the district.

It also shows the importance CMS places on protecting students, even one as troublesome as the blond-haired boy mentioned in court records.

Sometimes those realities collide.

Diamond’s attorney, John Gresham of Charlotte, still argues that his client’s action was protected under state law.

In his request for a state Supreme Court review, Gresham described the boy Diamond slapped as “an out-of-control student whose escalating conduct was causing major disruption during an active and ongoing bomb threat.”

Two lower courts ruled that CMS leaders were justified in firing Diamond.

“We’re glad that the courts found that we followed the law, but we take no joy over the end of anyone’s teaching career at CMS,” school board attorney George Battle said Wednesday.

“Then again, this district takes very seriously its responsibilities to treat our employees fairly and to protect our students.”

Under a state law in effect at the time, school personnel could use reasonable force – and corporal punishment – for self-protection, to end a disturbance in which others could be injured, seizing weapons, or to “maintain order” on school property or at any school-related activity.

That final category has driven much of the legal arguments in the case.

The seventh-grader’s outbursts had become a growing problem at Bailey through much of the 2010-11 school year, according to court records. Starting in late January 2011, his “aggression and contempt for authority escalated.”

On the morning of the bomb threat, he had fought with another student on the bus ride to school. During the bomb evacuation, he responded to teacher directives with angry curses.

That day, Bailey’s 1,200 students spent several hours at the track and field area while bomb squads scoured the school and helicopters whirled overhead. The scene was described in court documents as chaotic, with both students and teachers on edge.

As the seventh-grader’s defiance mounted, his teacher went to Diamond for help. She advised the teacher and other students to stay away from the boy in hopes he would calm down, court records say. He did not.

Diamond said she then went looking for the school’s resource officer, who had a sometimes cordial relationship with the boy, but could not find him, records say. After a few minutes, another teacher complained about the student and urged Diamond to intercede. This time, she did.

The investigation

During an interview that was part of the CMS investigation, Diamond said she calmly gave the boy the choice of sitting down or standing alone by a nearby fence. According to court documents, he told Diamond that she “was the last f-----g person he would listen to” and would not do “any f-----g thing she f-----g told him to.”

As Diamond tried to lead him to the fence, the student began flailing his arms and cursing her. Diamond slapped him once. An assistant principal who witnessed the blow heard Diamond tell the student he could not talk to her that way “especially not at a time like this,” court records say.

She was suspended the next day.

‘An abusive act’

That September, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh recommended her firing, saying that she had committed “an abusive act.” She was also accused of insubordination and violating a state law requiring teachers to maintain order and discipline.

A case manager and a unanimous school board upheld Hattabaugh’s recommendation. Diamond was fired Sept. 15, 2011. After Gresham filed for a judicial review, Superior Court Judge Robinson Hassell threw out the case in February 2012.

Gresham appealed. Diamond, he argued, acted appropriately in slapping the student because she was trying to maintain order during extraordinary and deteriorating circumstances.

The appeals court, however, twice sided with CMS.

School board’s findings

“The school board’s findings indicated that the behavior of the unruly student, while annoying and extremely disruptive, did not pose a threat to the safety or well-being of teachers or students, nor did his actions threaten to damage property,” wrote Associate Appellate Judge Wanda Bryant in the unanimous October decision.

The student remains enrolled in CMS.

On Wednesday, Gresham lamented the loss of “a fine educator” to what he described as the pressures and second guessing of CMS.

Diamond was thrust into a school emergency with a student who scared his classmates, verbally abused his teachers and made a chaotic situation worse, he said.

“And after all this, a pop on the cheek is grounds for dismissal?”

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