SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Gould Elementary School first-grade teacher Seth Kolodny is beginning a 60-day, unpaid suspension for inappropriately handling a situation with an out of control 6-year-old student on Nov. 18.
Savannah-Chatham Public Schools administrators recommended that Kolodny be terminated, but after a seven-hour hearing Wednesday, the board opted to suspend the teacher, who has received satisfactory evaluations during his eight years at Gould and is held in high regard by parents and co-workers. Savannah-Chatham Public School Board attorney Leamon Holliday described Kolodny as a good person and dedicated teacher who made a mistake.
“After the 60 days he can return to a school but he won’t return to that school (Gould),” Holliday said. “I believe he is a good man but this situation required action and the board took action. It was a very difficult case.”
The trouble began as Kolondy’s first-grade students sat on the floor around his rocking chair for a math lesson and one 6-year-old boy became unruly. He was asked to sit down and stop bothering his classmates, but instead of following Kolodny’s orders, the child snatched a roster out of the teacher’s hand, crumpled it up and threw it on the floor.
Moments later the boy’s mother entered the classroom to deliver his misplaced eyeglasses and she found the 6-year-old bruised, cowering in the corner and complaining of breathing trouble.
The mother took her son to the office, where the assistant principal and school nurse testified that they photographed fresh bruises and scratches on the boy’s chest and face.
The 6-year-old sat before the school board Wednesday, feet dangling from a black swivel chair, and described his version of happened that November morning.
“Mr. K said sit down and I didn’t sit down,” the boy said. “Then he pushed me into the chairs and I kicked him. Then he pushed me in the bookcase and then he slapped me two times on the ground and kicked me in the chest.”
Kolodny used a diagram of the classroom to help explain his version of what happened around the rocking chair when the child snatched the paper from his hand.
“I was in shock,” Kolodny said. “A child has never done this to me before and I thought to myself immediately, ‘If this child is going to be this aggressive to me I need to get him away from the children in the immediate area.’”
Kolodny said the 6-year-old, who had thrown a chair a week earlier, started kicking at him and grazed him on the leg with his foot, as he tried to back away from the rocking chair area. He said the boy aggressively pursued him across the room and grabbed his shirt. Then suddenly the boy said he was sorry, sat on the floor and started crying. Kolodny said he then finished his math lesson and had just begun another lesson when the boy’s mother entered the room.
He said the boy didn’t appear to be in any pain or have fresh injuries while in his presence. His attorney Alan Lowe suggested that the boy injured himself or was beaten by his mother on their way to the office.
Assistant Principal Dionne Young and interim Principal Lillie Ellis testified that they reviewed witness statements from students in the class and were inclined to believe the child’s version of events. Kolodny was adamant that he did not touch the boy.
“I never slapped him. I never pushed him. I don’t think that he fell into any chairs, but I certainly never pushed him,” Kolodny testified. “I never kicked him. I never touched him. “
However, school Board members weren’t convinced that Kolodny followed protocol.
They wanted to know why Kolodny didn’t call for help during the altercation. They questioned his decision to resume lessons instead of reporting what happened after the clamor died down, and they asked why he never told the boy’s mother or his supervisors when the child threw a chair a week earlier. Board President Joe Buck also tried to get Kolodny to explain whether or not he had ever been counseled about putting his hands on students. Initially Kolodny implied that general discussions with the principal had taken place in group settings, but Kolodny ultimately testified that he and the principal had spoken about discipline individually in the past. However he said the principal has spoken with other teachers as well and he insisted that he had never inappropriately touched a child in any way.
“This is disgusting,” Kolodny testified of the situation. “I switched from a business major to education so I could be with children. This is my livelihood and my life. I would never do anything to jeopardize that. A lot of them look up to me, especially those who don’t have fathers. It breaks my heart to be out of the classroom, not be able to teach. “
After the Nov. 18 altercation, Kolodny was immediately removed from the classroom and reassigned to duties in the school library. The 6-year-old student was moved to a different class. Witnesses from the Gould staff testified that Kolodny was a kind and gentle teacher. They also said no behavior referrals involving the 6-year-old boy occurred prior to or after Nov. 18.
The school board approved Kolodny’s 60-day, unpaid suspension in a 4 to 3 vote. Board members Buck, Shawn Kachmar, Irene Hines and Jennifer Lambeth votes yes. Hall, Lower and Jones voted no. Julie Wade and Dionne Hoskins were not present.
But no one left the hearing happy.
Kolodny declined to comment but his attorney, Lowe, said their reaction was mixed.
“We believe this was a compromise decision,” Lowe said. “We don’t think Mr. Kolodny deserved any punishment at all.”
The boy’s family members said they were insulted by the way the defense negatively characterized the 6-year-old in an effort to excuse Kolodny’s actions.
"We didn’t want him to lose his job,“ said the child’s mother, Jessica Creech. “We just wanted him to realize there are consequences for not doing your job properly or following procedure.”