The Sacramento City Unified School District has gone to court to uphold the firing of a veteran McClatchy High School teacher who got in a fight with a student during a physical education class.
Jerry Glaviano said he battled the student out of self-defense, that he was attacked when he tried to break up a fight between the youth and another boy during his sixth-period physical education class on Jan. 29.
Glaviano, 58, who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 120 pounds, came out of the fracas bloodied, battered and dazed. The student, who was at least 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds, had a tooth loosened in the altercation. He also sustained a bite to his arm.
Sacramento City Unified officials took statements from the two combatants, as well as from eight students who witnessed the fight and generally supported the teacher's version of events. Two weeks later, they still fired Glaviano, a 28-year veteran with the district, all of it at McClatchy High.
Glaviano appealed the termination to a Commission on Professional Competence, and the three-member panel voted unanimously last month to reinstate him. The commission said that his motive in trying to break up a fight and protect another student was "praiseworthy."
The district disagreed, and then filed suit in Sacramento Superior Court to overturn the commission's decision. On Aug. 27, Judge Allen H. Sumner refused to issue an order requested by the district to block the reinstatement, although the judge said the commission exceeded its jurisdiction by saying Glaviano should get his old job back. Sumner ruled the district "retains the authority to determine his specific assignment."
Glaviano is now on paid administrative leave pending a scheduled Feb. 7 hearing on the merits of the case, in Sumner's courtroom. The district intends to pursue its aggressive effort to fire Glaviano.
"We take these types of things very seriously, and the district obviously disagrees with the CPC's ruling that the district wasn't within its rights to terminate the employee, and that's why we're appealing this decision," district spokesman Gabe Ross said. "We'll let the process run its course."
Glaviano's lawyer, Andrea Price, said she found it "puzzling" and "disappointing" that the district took action against a veteran teacher who was popular with his students.
"Mr. Glaviano wants to go back to McClatchy," Price said. "He's looking forward to having his job back. This whole thing has been very disheartening for him. From his perspective he gets severely beaten by a student, then the district turns around and tries to fire him."
In its 25-page decision to reinstate Glaviano, the professional competence board made up of one employee representative, one district representative and an administrative law judge appointed by the state Office of Administrative Hearings said that Glaviano had just begun to hand out paddle tennis equipment at 2:45 p.m. on Jan. 29 when he saw a fight taking shape between two students.
"He yelled at both students to stop, quickly ran over and stepped between the students," the CPC found. "With his arms extended toward each student, respondent continued to yell at them to stop."
One student stepped away, but the other identified only as "Student AA," a special education enrollee with a hearing impairment tangled with Glaviano in a fight that lasted four to five minutes, according to the CPC's factual summary.
When the fight was over, Glaviano and the student gave their stories to school officials. Ten days later, the district suspended the teacher, and on Feb. 27 it filed an accusation charging that Glaviano "had not acted in self-defense; that his behavior instigated further confrontation and provoked 'AA' to escalate the fight." The district said the teacher's alleged wrongdoing merited his firing, or at least a 180-day suspension, which Glaviano challenged.
District officials contended Glaviano "was not required to defend" the student who was challenged by "AA," that he "should have called for help rather than intervene in a verbal disagreement between two students," according to the commission. They used Glaviano's initial statements, in which he allegedly admitted, "I shouldn't have hit him," and, "That's what I guess set the student off," to portray him as the aggressor.
Glaviano testified at the commission hearing that he was protecting a smaller and more "passive" student. He said he was forced to defend himself when "AA" turned his focus to the teacher. He said he hit the student in the mouth "reflexively" to defend himself, and that his initial accounts of the fight to school officials were incomplete because he was traumatized.
The CPC found Glaviano "credible." The panel's decision said the student "was much younger, much taller and much heavier than respondent." It found that "AA" slugged Glaviano multiple times, put him in a chokehold and lifted him off his feet and threw him upside down into a chain-link fence.
Other students in the class came to Glaviano's rescue, and the testimony of eight of them that corroborated the teacher's account was a crucial factor in the commission's decision. Some of the students, however, said they got together before they made their initial statements to the district to make sure their accounts were consistent with each other. They also agreed to "leave out facts that they were concerned might cause (Glaviano) to get in trouble," such as his hitting "AA" in the mouth.
Under oath during the May hearings, the students acknowledged talking with each other the day of the fight to get their stories straight to help Glaviano. But they said they stuck to their accounts that "AA" was the aggressor, that he pushed Glaviano when the teacher tried to break up the initial fight.
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.