Teacher could be suspended for pushing student to floor

Board to decide if Terry Parker High teacher to be suspended without pay

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Terry Parker teacher accused of knocking a student out of a chair, pushing him to the floor and putting him in a headlock is expected to be reprimanded and suspended without pay.

The Duval County School Board had planned to take up the decision on Darryl Countryman's punishment at Tuesday night's meeting, but pulled it off the agenda and did not say when it would be addressed.

Investigators found that Countryman, a teacher in a special program at Terry Parker for students with emotional and behavioral problems, “exercised poor judgment” Sept. 27 when he physically flipped a freshman student out of a chair onto the floor, grabbed and punched the student in the head and face, pushed the student's head into the floor and put his arm around the student's neck “in an aggressive manner.”

The Department of Children and Families and school board police are also investigating the incident separately.

Duval County Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti sent an email to Board members Tuesday explaining that Countryman's attorney is claiming that two employee witnesses quoted in the investigative report have said “the statements attributed to them in the reports do not accurately reflect their previous statements to the investigator.”

Vitti said he wants to ensure the final report is accurate before a recommendation is made to the Board.

According to the district's investigative report, the altercation left the student with scars and bruises on his right elbow and bruises on the back of his head.

Witnesses said the incident began when the student returned from the restroom and got into an argument with another student. Countryman told another teacher to take the other students to a different room. The injured student told investigators that once the other students were gone, Countryman slapped the student's phone out of his hand, pushed him in the face, pushed him out of his chair onto the floor and punched him in the face and head.

Countryman submitted a written statement explaining that he tried to deescalate an argument between the student and his girlfriend and that the student pushed him twice. Countryman said he is professional crisis management certified and used the “one arm wrap around technique” on the student.

A teacher interviewed by investigators said he heard noises and shouting and went to the room with another teacher. He said they found an overturned desk, a broken cellphone scattered on the floor and Countryman holding the student down on the ground.

“Mr. Countryman's behavior was very aggressive and inappropriate,” the teacher said.

The report also cites another student who said teachers told her to lie about what she saw during the incident and that she was later told to tell the truth and write another statement.

In a letter to Countryman, the district said that his conduct was “unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

“You are directed to refrain from this behavior in the future,” Assistant Superintendent Sonita Young wrote to Countryman.

The district decided Countryman should be reprimanded and suspended for 30 days without pay, pending approval by the School Board.

“This constructive discipline is being given instead of dismissal in order to afford you progressive discipline,” Young wrote. “Further improper conduct on your part will subject you to more severe disciplinary action, which could include dismissal.”

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