Prior to suspending and recommending the firing of a Harford County Public Schools teacher accused of biting a student, top administrators including Superintendent Robert Tomback did not interview a school nurse who examined the student, the teacher’s attorney said Tuesday.
Details of the investigation into Fountain Green Elementary School teacher John Hickey were among those that came to light Tuesday, several days after the public announcement that Hickey had been exonerated from any wrong-doing.
Tomback remained mum on the topic at the county Board of Education meeting Monday, refusing to answer any questions on the issue, which he called a personnel matter. The school system did not respond to earlier written questions. Tomback referred questions about the procedures followed when a teacher is accused of a crime to the school system’s attorney, who was not immediately available.
Hickey was accused in June 2011 of biting a female student on the wrist at Fountain Green Elementary. According to Hickey’s attorney, Bel Air lawyer Dave Carey, the girl was in the YMCA after-school program on a Friday afternoon when she showed a mark to other students and said that Hickey bit her. She was taken to the school nurse who was still at the school. The nurse saw the mark, but by the time school investigators saw the girl the following Monday, the mark was gone.
Hickey was suspended with pay pending the results of the school investigation. In August 2011, based on the recommendation, Tomback recommended that Hickey be fired. Carey said that while the nurse’s records were reviewed by school investigators, neither they nor Tomback personally spoke to the nurse to get her opinion about what she saw. Carey said it was later learned that the nurse in fact did not believe that the mark was from a bite.
Carey said Hickey does not know what led to the accusation. In his last performance evaluation, Hickey was described by his principal as a “model educator,” according to Carey
If Hickey had not filed an appeal, Carey said he would have been terminated based on what turned out to be a false accusation. Instead, he was placed on leave without pay, where he remained for about a year as he fought to clear his name.
The school board heard Hickey’s appeal in December. It was at that time when, according to Carey, Tomback first heard the nurse’s opinion that the mark did not look like a bite. Carey claimed there was an outpouring of support for Hickey, but that the teacher declined to have any children to testify on his behalf, and he did not want any repercussions against the accuser.
In February, the hearing examiner issued an opinion recommending that the Board of Education reject Tomback’s recommendation to fire Hickey. He was reinstated by the board on June 25, given back pay and suffered no loss of service time. He was reassigned to Deerfield Elementary School in Edgewood, where he will teach 3rd grade this upcoming school year.
Criminal charges that had been filed last year were also dropped, and Hickey’s record was later expunged. Carey said Hickey does not intend to pursue further litigation at this time, adding that Hickey was not vindictive by nature and wants to get back to teaching.
Nonetheless, with no response from the school system, questions remain about the conduct of the school system’s investigation into Hickey.
Listen to The Dagger’s Cindy Mumby discuss this story Tuesday on WBAL 1090 AM:[audio:http://www.daggerpress.com/wp-content/uploads/HickeyAudio.mp3|titles=HickeyAudio]