NORTH PLATTE, Nebraska — A North Platte physical education teacher who dragged an 8-year-old student by his ankles can keep his job.
The North Platte Public Schools Board decided late Friday not to terminate the contract of Mark Woodhead, a longtime teacher and coach at Jefferson Elementary School. The 4-2 vote came at the end of 15 hours of public testimony and deliberation, and was cheered by a large crowd.
Witnesses said the third-grader was misbehaving in Woodhead's physical education class on Feb. 13. The student left the class and went to an office. Woodhead followed the boy and dragged him back to a timeout room, a distance of about 90 feet. The child's guardian testified that the boy, identified as "CM," suffered rug burns on his back.
Woodhead said he wasn't trying to harm or punish the student, but the boy was being disruptive in the class and refused to go to the timeout room. Woodhead said the boy refused to be picked up, and started kicking and yelling when he grabbed the boy's foot.
"In retrospect, I shouldn't have done that," Woodhead said in testimony to the board. "I shouldn't have pulled him. That was bad judgment on my part."
District administrators had recommended that Woodhead's teaching contract not be renewed for the coming school year. Woodhead, a 30-year employee of the district, requested the public hearing as part of the appeals process.
"There are no winners here," board member Julie Nielsen said after the board announced its decision.
North Platte Superintendent Marty Bassett said he was unaware of the incident until April 25. Bassett said no reports were filed and proper protocol was not followed. Dragging a boy by the ankles for 90 feet constitutes corporal punishment, which violates Nebraska law, he said. Bassett said the child was dragged down the hall in front of at least 50 kindergarteners.
George Schere, the school's former principal, has come under fire for not reporting the incident to the district office. Schere said he viewed a tape of the incident and verbally reprimanded Woodhead, which he felt was sufficient to address the issue. Schere said it was clear on the video that Woodhead didn't intend to hurt the child.
Jefferson Elementary School teacher Angela Morris, who witnessed part of the incident, told the board that she asked Woodhead if he needed help with the boy, and Woodhead replied, "No, I've got this."
The board also heard from the boy's teacher, Heather Harvey.
"Never in a million years would I have thought that something like this would happen, especially by Mr. Woodhead," she said.