Duval School Board suspends teacher who allegedly used racial slur

David Swinyar is accused of engaging in inappropriate communication with students including either using the N-word in conversation or using it when referring to a student, a district investigative report says.

Duval County School Board on Tuesday suspended a Kernan Middle School teacher without pay for 10 days for allegedly using the N-word in front of students in October.

David Swinyar is accused of engaging in inappropriate communication with students including either using the N-word in conversation or using it when referring to a student, a district investigative report says.

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He also allegedly said “You are in my class because you failed the FSA,” which is the Florida Standards Assessments issued each year.

The report also said he told students, “You should not be dating all these different African-American boys because they are not worth it.”

He also allegedly called students dumb, yelled at students, and once in front of adults snatched a phone away from a student who was calling his mother to complain about Swinyar’s behavior.

Most student witnesses said they heard Swinyar use the N-word but some said he apologized for it. They also said he denied saying it.

Swinyar couldn’t be reached for comment and through his union attorney declined to be interviewed by the district investigator.

This is his first disciplinary incident.

UPDATE: On March 8, the spokesperson for DCPS shared with First Coast News the statement made by Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis on the matter:

As you know, we have received numerous community and media inquiries regarding the approved Suspension without Pay of David Swinyar. Communications and Human Resources staff are working jointly to provide appropriate responses to the inquiries while concurrently protecting against the release of any information that might adversely impair our ability to defend our actions against the appeal that Mr. Swinyar has filed with the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

The district’s actions in this matter were consistent with the approved Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which governs employee discipline. Specifically, the CBA provides for the following steps in Progressive Discipline: Step 1 – Verbal, Step 2 – Written Reprimand, Step 3 - Suspension without Pay, Step 4 - Termination. In order to skip a step, we must demonstrate that the conduct is severe and in doing so, we consider factors such as the employee’s previous disciplinary history, if any, potential harm to the physical or mental well-being of students and/or whether the conduct impairs the employee’s effectiveness in performing his/her duties or confidence in the eyes of the students or parents.

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In the current matter, the district determined that the specific facts supported a conclusion that Mr. Swinyar’s conduct was severe and therefore recommended that two steps in the process be skipped. We are confident in our ability to prove the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence in a state administrative hearing and that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will recommend that a final order be entered sustaining the suspension. We believe this recommendation to be supported by the record of a previous employee discipline matter with similar allegations of misconduct.

In the previous matter, Duval County School Board vs Joyce Quiller, the Board terminated a teacher for inappropriate communications with students, which included allegations from students that the teacher used profanity, racial epithets and other derogatory terms. That matter was appealed by the employee, and an ALJ officer determined that even though there was sufficient evidence to support the inappropriate statements, that the employee conduct was not immoral and that no willful neglect of duty existed. As a result, it was determined that sufficient reason existed to sanction the employee, but that the behavior was not “severe” as contemplated in the progressive discipline policy. The Board refused to accept the ALJ’s recommendation and entered an Order terminating Ms. Quiller. The teacher appealed the Order and the Court of Appeals reversed the Board’s Final Order or Dismissal and ordered that the Board reinstate the employee to active duty. The Board ultimately entered into a Settlement with the employee for $125,000, paying her back wages and other related costs in consideration for her voluntary resignation from the district.

Despite the specific ruling in Quiller, and based on revised language to the CBA, the Board approved skipping two steps in Progressive Discipline and suspending Mr. Swinyar without pay. Following the employee’s suspension without pay, he will be reassigned to an appropriate district position with no contact with students for the remainder of the year. As an annual contract employee, Mr. Swinyar’s employment contract with the district expires June 30, 2018. In May, recommendations for contract renewals for all annual employees will be considered.
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