An administrative law judge has cleared a Duval County middle school teacher suspended for 10 days without pay for allegedly using the N-word in front of students last year.
Judge James H. Peterson III ruled the Duval County School Board failed to prove the allegations in support of its suspension of David Swinyar, a Kernan Middle School teacher. The decision filed Friday at the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee closes the case.
Peterson said there was insufficient evidence supporting both the allegations and subsequent disciplinary action against Swinyar.
“In sum, the School Board did not prove it’s case,” Peterson said in the 17-page decision.
Peterson recommended the School Board dismiss all the allegations, rescind Swinyar’s suspension and reimburse him any pay plus interest and other benefits affected by the disciplinary action.
The School Board had suspended Swinyar March 6 after a district investigative report accused him of engaging in inappropriate communications with students including either using the N-word in conversation or using it when referring to a student in October 2017.
It was Swinyar’s first disciplinary incident during his six years with the district. He taught pre-algebra to Kernan students who had not performed well on Florida’s standardized test.
At that time, Swinyar’s union attorney said he denied making inappropriate comments, and was appealing the suspension to the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
Peterson heard the case Aug. 20. Swinyar testified on his own behalf. He also presented the testimony of three of his former students, who all said they never heard Swinyar use the N-word or other inappropriate comments, according to the ruling.
The School Board presented testimony from two of Swinyar’s former Kernan students, the school principal, an investigator with the district’s Office of Professional Standards and Sonita Young, assistant superintendent of Human Resources Services. One student testified he “thought” he heard Swinyar use the N-word. The other student testified he believed Swinyar said it accidentally, the ruling showed.
Peterson also addressed news media coverage of the suspension and subsequent call by the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP for Swinyar’s termination.
“While press coverage of the allegations against Respondent [Swinyar] may have resulted in community reaction and emails to the school principal, considering the fact that the allegations were not proven, those reactions cannot be fairly attributed to Respondent’s behavior,” Peterson said in his ruling.
The local president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent a letter interim Superintendent Patricia Willis asking her to fire Swinyar. In the letter, Isaiah Rumlin said numerous parents, students and others had expressed their displeasure at the suspension because they believed it was too lenient, the Times-Union reported at the time.