An administrative law judge on Tuesday upheld the East Baton Rouge Parish superintendent’s decision to fire the Scotlandville High School principal after he used a stick to break up a fight between two students.
Administrative Law Judge Bob Hester ruled that Superintendant Warren Drake was not “overly harsh” in his decision to fire Calvin Nicholas on Sept. 24 after the principal used a stick to break up a fight on campus.
Nicholas and his attorney, Jill Craft, said they are disappointed in the decision and that they have plans to appeal.
“I can’t fault the judge,” Nicholas said. “The way it came out to me, it was the discretion of the superintendent to make that decision.”
Nicholas said he wishes Drake had at least allowed him to finish his contract, though.
After three months as principal of Scotlandville High School, Nicholas was suspended and later fired after a video surfaced Sept. 1 showing him striking a student. The brief, blurry video, taken by a bystander, shows a fight outdoors between at least two male students. After a few seconds, Nicholas, dressed in black and holding a stick, intervenes, striking the stick across the rear of one boy before pulling him aside. The television station that aired the video reported receiving it from an unnamed teacher at the school.
Nicholas, who is traveling through Louisiana looking for another job as an educator, said his only intention was to keep the fight from escalating. He said the school system’s policy, which forbids the use of sticks to punish students, does not necessarily put children’s safety first and may keep others from protecting students in the future.
“What would I do next time? I would be very, very cautious and have to think. I just lost a lot for my family,” Nicholas said. “Instead of reacting, people will be thinking, and in that time someone’s going to get hurt.”
Craft said the school system leaves educators defenseless in situations similar to the fight Nicholas stopped that day.
“Are educators supposed to sit back and wait until these kids seriously injure themselves? Are they supposed to engage in hand-to-hand combat?” Craft said. “That’s where it is. They’re on their own. No training, no education, nothing.”
Drake said in a statement Wednesday that his decision to terminate Nicholas was not taken lightly.
“I expect our administrators, and staff to model appropriate behavior in our schools at all times,” Drake said. “I am saddened by the way the students, staff and the Scotlandville High School community in general have been publicly characterized. This characterization does not paint an accurate picture of the school or community’s environment. I wish Dr. Nicholas and his family well as they move forward.”
Nicholas said his doctorate is in educational leadership.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said Nicholas’ administrative hearing is the first one the school system has had under a new state law that revamps how such hearings are conducted. Under the new rules, Nicholas had to prove the school system acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in firing him, a higher legal standard than under the old system, Rutledge said.
Hester wrote in the ruling, “This writer cannot conclude that the actions of Warren Drake, Superintendent of Schools for East Baton Rouge Parish, were ‘arbitrary and capricious.’ Therefore, the decision to terminate the employment of Dr. Calvin Nicholas is affirmed.”
Craft said they plan to appeal to the 19th Judicial District Court, noting that under the new system Nicholas will not have the chance to make his case to the School Board itself.
Craft said the school system should not be allowed to fire Nicholas after he “successfully stopped the fight and nobody got hurt.”
“What is terrible about it is the evidence of the hearing clearly showed that, No. 1, no one knew what the policy was. And No. 2, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system doesn’t offer any training about how educators are supposed to go about breaking up fights on campus. Fights, which I might add, appear to be a common occurrence, especially at that school.”
Nicholas was assistant principal at Baker High School before taking over as principal at Scotlandville High, a school with more than 1,400 students.
Follow Danielle Maddox Kinchen on Twitter, @Dani_Maddox4.