Beacon School teacher fired for alleged pool incidents has job reinstated
The Athens Messenger - 8/24/2017
An arbitrator has reinstated a former Beacon School teacher to his job after the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities terminated him from the position last year for allegedly mishandling two students in seven documented occasions.
Beacon School Adapted Physical Education Instructor Chase Brackley was fired late last year for allegedly tossing a 4-year-old autistic child over a railing and into the school pool in addition to a number of other incidents involving another child, as previously reported by The Messenger.
Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities officials fired Brackley on Nov. 23, as stated in public documents, and he filed a grievance with the ATCO Beacon Education Association a few weeks later.
An arbitration hearing was held May 16 and a decision made Aug. 18. He was investigated by the agency's Major Unusual Incident Coordinator. An independent arbitrator, Langdon Bell, reviewed claims from both parties and sided with Brackley.
Parents of one of the children affected in the case joined ACBDD in expressing disappointment in the decision.
The arbitration document reported that an autism specialist noted one of the affected children was "making progress until these pool incidents occurred, causing him to experience trauma." The document further added the child "regressed to the point he would disrobe to avoid going to school; refuses baths; and, reacts in an agitated state when he sees someone resembling (Brackley)."
In defending Brackley's actions, the ATCO Beacon Education Association contended there were no published or written pool rules until ATCO was requested to write them for training purposes on Dec. 15, which came after Brackley's termination.
The arbitrator's report noted Brackley received lifeguard training under a Red Cross manual, "which didn't address throwing children into the pool." ACBDD had stated its existing policies and common sense should have prevented Brackley's conduct.
The Association asserted ACBDD's description of Brackley "throwing" one of the children as a "gross exaggeration of (his) dropping or placing the child back into the water."
The Association also argued there was no lasting "trauma" experienced by one of the children affected, adding that the child's behavior was a "continuation" of "autistic driven erratic behavior."
ACBDD made note of Brackley's size - 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 275 pounds, as listed on his driver's license in his personnel file. Brackley would reportedly lift students by their life vests with one hand up to his eye level, whereas other lifeguards used both hands to lift children from the water.
In response, the arbitrator wrote, "These observations are more likely a product of (Brackley's) gender, size, and strength compared to that of smaller lifeguards of the opposite gender, and not reflective of intentional or unintentional intimidation on the part of (Brackley)."
The arbitrator further continued in what he considered "abusive."
"In any event, unintended 'intimidation' is not synonymous with 'abuse,' just as being startled, shocked, frightened, or scared after unexpectedly being dropped into a pool does not equate to emotional abuse - as any youngster exiting a scary roller coaster can attest to by getting back in line for yet another ride after those experiences," Bell wrote.
Bell decided Brackley is "not without fault" in inappropriately handling the child he "threw" in the pool. His report added Brackley's actions "were initiated by the uncontested misbehavior of Child #1 and Child #2, and his handling of such children was not proven by (ACBDD) to constitute 'manhandling,' 'neglect,' or to subject Child #1 or Child #2 to risk of physical injury producing 'emotional or psychological abuse.'"
Although Bell ordered Brackley to be reinstated to his job, the report rejected his request for back-pay and for the agency to pay medical expenses due to the loss of employment benefits, as well as legal fees. Bell denied these requests, stating this would be "equivalent of providing (him) an extended paid vacation as a reward for clearly inappropriate handling of autistic four year olds."
Despite reinstating him to his job, Bell raised concerns that Brackley was hired to his position "with no apparent background or experience in dealing with (the) developmentally disabled."
ACBDD Supt. Kevin Davis provided The Messenger a prepared statement on behalf of the Board.
"The Board is disappointed that the arbitrator ruled for Mr. Brackley to be reinstated into his former position despite the fact that it was substantiated by an outside agency (Southern Ohio Council of Governments) that he physically abused one child and verbally abused another," the statement read. "The Board respects that the arbitrator did not award Mr. Brackley any back pay or financial compensation due to his 'clearly inappropriate handling of autistic four year olds,'" which equates to a nine-month unpaid suspension. We are working with the union to develop a mutually agreeable solution."
Davis noted Brackley was put back on the agency's payroll as of Aug. 18, but is still on paid leave pending a union solution.
The parents of one of the affected children added the arbitrator's decision was a "clear misunderstanding of autism and trauma."
"Experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus diagnosed our son with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of Mr. Brackley's actions. In our experience, the experts are correct and the arbitration findings are wrong," the parents said in a statement to The Messenger. "We will continue to advocate for our child, for other children, for disability awareness, and for justice. We trust that the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Beacon School will continue to do their best to ensure that no other child suffers from abuse while at school."