Judge’s tentative ruling says city school district can’t fire teacher

A judge’s tentative ruling Thursday upheld an administrative decision that barred the Sacramento City Unified School District from firing a teacher who was beaten last year in an on-campus fight with a McClatchy High School student.

District officials blamed Jerald Glaviano for the Jan. 29, 2013, physical altercation ignited when the 28-year veteran physical education teacher stepped between two students who were about to go at it during a paddle tennis class. Glaviano, a diminutive 5-foot-7 and 120 pounds, wound up bloodied and beaten and thrown upside down into a fence by the student who stood 6-feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds, according Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen H. Sumner’s findings in his tentative ruling.

Glaviano appealed the termination and last August won reinstatement to his old job by a specially appointed three-member Commission on Professional Competence. The school district sued to overturn the decision, and Thursday, Judge Sumner came back with his early ruling to deny the district’s petition to have the firing sustained.

Although he ruled the commission was right to void the termination, Sumner found the commission was wrong to specifically order the district to put Glaviano, who has been on paid leave, back into his physical education slot at McClatchy, where he had worked his entire career.

“The commission exceeded its authority,” Sumner said, on that count.

The judge scheduled a hearing for 4 p.m. on Friday before the decision becomes final.

Glaviano, 59, was disappointed in the judge’s tentative split decision.

“If I don’t go back to McClatchy, it makes the appearance that I’m guilty,” he said in an interview. “I’m definitely not guilty. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be back at McClatchy if I’m not guilty. It’s kind of goofy.”

In his ruling, Sumner said the state Education Code only allows the Commission on Professional Competence to decide whether a teacher can be dismissed, suspended or neither dismissed nor suspended.

District officials also were not pleased by the judge’s initial take.

“We have read the tentative ruling and believe the court overlooked a number of relevant pieces of evidence,” city schools’ spokesman Gabe Ross said in an email. “District legal counsel intends to point this out when they argue the case before the judge on Friday.”

Other than declining to order Glaviano back to McClatchy, the judge, in his analysis of the case, gave the teacher and the commission a fairly decisive victory over the school district.

Sumner found that Glaviano acted in self-defense when the student – identified only as “AA,” a special-education enrollee with a hearing disability – hit him first. The judge found Glaviano’s account of events “more persuasive” than the district’s contention that the teacher fabricated his story.

District officials had dismissed testimony from eight student witnesses who saw the fight as biased and tainted; all of them admittedly liked Glaviano and discussed with each other their version of events before they recounted them to the authorities.

“That the students liked Glaviano does not mean their testimony should be disregarded,” Sumner wrote. The judge also found that the students “candidly acknowledged” they talked about the fight with each other before giving statements to the district. The bottom line, the judge said, is that the commission found their testimony to be credible and that the assessment “is supported by the record.”

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