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Teacher’s tussle jeopardizes job

Despite his victory in court, one of Federal Way High School’s beloved teachers continues to fight for his job.

David Vinson has been a Federal Way School District teacher for 20 years and was recently head of the Cambridge program at Federal Way High School.

“He’s one of the best teachers in the district and it’s just terrible for my high school to have him removed,” said a teacher at Federal Way who requested her name not be used.

Vinson has been on paid administrative leave for the past year, stemming from an incident where he got into a verbal altercation with a former student last May at a Taco Time restaurant in Federal Way.

In court documents, Vinson admitted to calling Rebecca Nistrian a “f------ bitch” and a “whore” but said he was responding to her taunting him. Nistrian is no longer a student in Federal Way and is now an adult. She had on at least one previous occasion called Vinson, who is openly gay, a “faggot,” according to court documents. During their encounter at Taco Time, Vinson claimed that Nistrian taunted him, referencing a previous disciplinary action he had received from the district in 2005.

After the confrontation, Nistrian complained to school officials, and the district sent Vinson a letter on July 5 stating its intention to terminate him. The letter listed several complaints regarding Vinson’s behavior.

Nistrian was a witness in a 2005 investigation that led to Vinson being disciplined. Vinson was told not to retaliate against any witnesses in the investigation.

“This conduct was clearly in retaliation for the former student’s involvement in and cooperation with the previous investigation, which resulted in your being disciplined,” said the letter, which was signed by assistant superintendent Carol Matsui.

The letter stated that Vinson was threatening during the confrontation and that other students witnessed the event. Vinson also lied several times during the investigation into the incident, the letter stated.

The letter listed an example of insubordination and noted that Vinson was reprimanded several times as an employee at Thomas Jefferson High School in 2005. The Thomas Jefferson reprimands were for pinching the cheeks of at least one student, failure to provide legally required Individual Education Plan accommodations and harassing another staff member.

Legal tango:

Shortly after receiving the letter in July, Vinson requested and received a hearing before an independent hearing officer to contest his termination.

“I conclude that the Federal Way School District has not established sufficient cause to justify termination of Mr. Vinson’s employment,” the hearing officer John Cooper wrote in his decision.

Cooper’s decision ultimately concluded that Vinson’s actions have not had, nor are likely to have, an impact on his teaching effectiveness or performance.

“No students have been put at risk, nor is there any apparent threat of such a risk and, to the extent that there has been evidence regarding Mr. Vinson’s qualities as a teacher, it has been supportive, if not enthusiastic,” the decision stated.

Although the decision stated that Vinson should not be terminated, Cooper did note that Vinson’s conduct was, on occasion, inappropriate.

“I certainly understand that Mr. Vinson, at times, has been the source of consternation and frustration to the school district administrators, and I do not condone or approve of his conduct in this regard,” Cooper said in his decision.

The district appealed the hearing officer’s decision, according to court records. On May 13, the King County Superior Court denied the appeal and affirmed the decision of the hearing officer.

The district was ordered to pay Vinson’s attorney fees, totaling $38,773.67. The district also paid its own attorney fees, as well as Vinson’s salary while on paid administrative leave and the wages of a substitute teacher.

On May 21, the school board met in executive session and agreed to appeal the case to the Washington State Court of Appeals, said board president Ed Barney. No court dates were available at press time.

“No vote was taken. It was a general consensus that yes, we should go ahead and allow (Superintendent Tom Murphy) to file the appeal based on the information we had,” said Barney, who declined to comment further because of the ongoing case. “We felt it was in the best interests of the district to do so.”

School district spokeswoman Diane Turner confirmed that Vinson is currently on paid administrative leave. It has not yet been determined when or whether Vinson will return to work, Turner said.

Through his attorney, Vinson declined to comment on the case.

Daniel Baral, one of Vinson’s students, and Carter Brossard, another student, both have spoken out in support of Vinson.

“The whole school loves him,” said Baral, a senior at Federal Way.

The students said they tried to speak at a Federal Way School Board meeting but Superintendent Tom Murphy pulled them aside and clarified that the school board’s rules prohibited them from speaking on personnel issues.

The standard procedure when a public comment involves a staff member is to refer the comment to the superintendent or administration, Turner said.

Baral said students at Federal Way hope to see Vinson come back to school and teach.

“He’s won his case and he should have already come back,” Baral said. “I just feel like he should be teaching here because he would be doing a great job if he was teaching here, and the whole school loves him.”

Contact Margo Hoffman: mhoffman@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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