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Ky. High School Teacher of the Year returns to classroom

A man in a dashiki is in mid speech in a classroom.
Stephanie Wolf
/
LPM
Kumar Rashad in his classroom at Breckinridge Metropolitan High School.

Kentucky’s 2024 High School Teacher of the Year Kumar Rashad returned to his classroom Friday after being reassigned for three months. Jefferson County Public Schools found the allegations against him unsubstantiated.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Rashad said he expected his return to be “nothing but love.”

“I know my students miss me. I know my colleagues miss me; I miss them. It’s just going to be a happy reunion,” Rashad said.

Records obtained by LPM News show Rashad was reassigned while JCPS investigated allegations from two students that the teacher had been too forceful in breaking up what students called “horseplay.”

According to a report from the JCPS Compliance and Investigations office, Rashad told investigators he believed two boy students were attacking a girl student in his classroom at Breckinridge-Metropolitan High School on Sept. 28, 2023.

“My reassignment had to do with the fact that I’m against violence,” Rashad said Thursday afternoon. “Especially if that violence is perpetrated by a male towards a female.”

The boys claimed Rashad was too rough when he forced himself between them and their female classmate. Records show they complained to administrators, who initiated an investigation. But after interviews with several witnesses, the JCPS Compliance and Investigations office found the students’ allegations “unsubstantiated.”

In a statement Rashad provided the JCPS Compliance and Investigations office in October, Rashad said the boys’ behavior “seemed like horseplay at first but [boy student 1] increasingly used more force when hitting [the girl student]. I told them both to stop and then [boy student 2] joined in and he and [student 1] forced [girl student] into the corner of my room by the door.” Rashad also wrote that the female student “looked scared.”

The compliance officer found Rashad’s actions “were a reasonable measure to protect the health, safety and emotional well-being of [female student] who, to Mr. Rashad, appeared to be uncomfortable and experiencing an imbalance of power in the manner in which [student 1] and [student 2] interacted with her.”

One student who complained later recanted and “expressed sorrow and guilt regarding this situation,” according to the compliance office report. The compliance officer wrote that in the student’s interview, he said he and his classmate “felt the need to defend themselves” because Rashad said he would write referrals. But after thinking more about the incident, the student said he realized that their behavior “may have looked aggressive and serious,” according to the report.

“[The student] wanted it known that Mr. Rashad is his favorite teacher, and Mr. Rashad is a positive influence for the students,” the report reads.

Rashad was named Kentucky’s 2024 High School Teacher of the Year in September but was reassigned less than a month later over the complaint.

On Thursday, Rashad said even though JCPS cleared him of the allegations, they were “harmful” to his career and mental health. He said he’s been out of the classroom for three months and also lost opportunities during that time for speaking engagements related to his teacher of the year award.

“That time, I will never be able to get back,” he said.

He said many educators are reassigned for “frivolous reasons,” and that investigations take too long. He called on the state Education Professional Standards Board, which takes part in investigations of alleged educator misconduct, to “streamline” their process. He also said that based on his own experience, he believes educators of color are more likely to face disciplinary action than their white colleagues.

“It’s a problem,” Rashad said.

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim agreed that the investigation process should move more quickly, especially given the teacher shortage.

“We certainly think we should always err on the side of safety for students, but we should also have an efficient process so we can determine as quickly as possible whether something did happen that was inappropriate or not,” McKim said.

Records obtained by LPM show Rashad was reassigned to a position at the Special Needs East Bus Compound in early October and was ordered not to have contact or communication with any faculty, staff, or parents of students at Breckinridge-Metropolitan High School.

Asked about his duties during his time at the bus compound, Rashad laughed.

“If you want to compare it to like an educator jail … it’s just a lot of isolation, and you’re made to feel like you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he said.

Rashad is running to be vice president of the JCTA. The union is holding elections in early February.

The teacher was also featured in LPM’s 2022 radio documentary “A Critical Moment,” which explores how schools in the U.S. and Germany teach about their nations’ unsettling histories.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.