Board votes to fire local teacher over comment during state test

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MARLIN, Texas (KWTX) The Marlin ISD’s Board of Managers voted 3-0 Tuesday evening to terminate the contract of Marlin High School teacher Claude Kelley, who was placed on administrative leave for alleged comments he made during state testing.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

Superintendent Michael Seabolt said it was reported that right before an Algebra I course exam last week, Kelley said in front of teachers and students, that “there were only a couple smart enough to pass it, anyway.”

“You can think bad things about my kids, but I better never hear it,” Seabolt said.

“I took it pretty seriously.”

Following the results of an initial investigation by the principal, Seabolt said he called the school district’s attorney and put Kelley on paid leave immediately after he found out about the alleged conduct the next day.

"Based on that we sent him home on paid leave, and then we decided to go ahead and terminate him for cause," said Seabolt.

“It’s pretty disheartening."

Seabolt said the comments violated the ethical conduct section of the Texas Education Code and probably violated district policies as far as interactions with the students.

“I wish it hadn’t happened, it’s not the kind of thing I want to be dealing with, of course,” Seabolt said.

Marlin schools have been busy trying to (and must) improve test scores after years of failing to meet state academic standards.

In March, the district got another reprieve from the Texas Education Agency after its accreditation status was revoked earlier in the year.

Seabolt said his recommendation to fire Kelley over the comments was in the best interest of the district.

“I think with an academically fragile environment like Marlin is, we don’t need educators to make comments like that right before a state test, literally right before kids are walking in to take the test,” Seabolt said.

Seabolt said, because it was a state test, the comments may also be in violation of state law testing protocol.

"There's some details in state testing laws - that's certainly not in the script of what you're supposed to read," he said.

"We're not going to let it go."

He said he planned to refer the case to the TEA for potential action on Kelley’s teaching certification.

"Any educator that wants to have that view about the kids in their classroom that they're supposed to be teaching day-in and day-out, it's not the kind of educator we need in Marlin, frankly, I'm not sure we need that kind of educator in the profession," said Seabolt.

Seabolt said, prior to the incident, last month Kelley had filed a grievance for retaliation after learning his position was going to be eliminated.

Marlin police were called to, and present at, Tuesday's meeting.

Kelley did not show up.

With less than two weeks left, Seabolt said Kelley would not finish out the school year but would remain on leave because it was far less expensive to let his contract expire than to pay it out.

Seabolt said they wouldn't know if the alleged comments had any impact on the student's test scores until the results came back in a few weeks.

"I don't think it was helpful, it wouldn't be something that I would say 'hey, let's go in there and denigrate the children right before they start taking a state test,' that doesn't seem like a good education policy to me," said Seabolt.