** Watch prior coverage in the player above.
LORAIN, Ohio (WJW) — Lorain City Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Graham has recommended district officials terminate one of the school employees seen on video apparently encouraging a student brawl at Southview Middle School on May 9.
David Contreras of Lorain, an eighth-grade science teacher, was one of several employees seen on cell phone and security camera footage appearing to encourage a fight between two students, then mocking them. It happened in the hallway just outside Contreras’ classroom, records show.
” … The teachers down the hall put the kids in a circle and told them they could fight and pushed all the other kids away,” reads one student’s statement on the fight.
Contreras told school officials he chose not to break up the fight because the two boys involved were “frequent fliers” — suggesting they’d been in trouble in the past.
What the footage showed
During a June 30 hearing with school administrators and attorneys from the district as well as the Lorain Education Association, where officials reviewed video from the incident, Contreras appeared to contradict himself several times in the span of 30 minutes, according to a July 28 letter from Graham.
In the video, Contreras is seen gesturing with his hand and saying, “we’re good,” as the two boys “stood ready to fight,” according to the letter.
Initially, Contreras told officials that was meant to communicate to the building manager that the situation was under control, and that building security was nearby. But the video didn’t back that up, according to Graham’s letter.
Contreras then amended his statement, saying “he meant the boys weren’t fighting, and he didn’t think they were going to fight,” the letter states. “Video footage clearly demonstrated this also wasn’t true.”
Then Contreras said his gesture and “we’re good” meant, “I need help.” Contreras, who said he is a former wrestling coach trained in martial arts, told officials he “truly feared for the life” of the smaller of the two boys, who was put in a hold during the fight, according to the letter.
Contreras said that was when he broke up the fight. But instead, the video showed Contreras “followed the fight closely and closely watched the students like a referee and did not break it up until long after the smaller student released himself from the hold,” the letter states.
Contreras has defused student fights before. When asked why he didn’t on May 9, he said the boys involved were “‘frequent fliers,’ meaning they had been in trouble before,” the letter states.
For the next 10 minutes, Contreras and other staff members appeared on video to be mocking the students and re-enacting the fight — all in full view of other students.
“When asked what they were talking about, Mr. Contreras said they were talking about what just happened,” the letter states. “He also stated he believed he behaved appropriately.”
Superintendent, union speak out
The district’s treasurer in an Aug. 8 letter to Contreras said the education board members would consider terminating his contract on violations of ethics and conduct policies, charging him with dereliction of duty, lack of professional judgment and dishonesty.
The Lorain City Schools Board of Education’s next meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22. in the Lorain High School Media Center, 2600 Ashland Ave.
Contreras is allowed to request a hearing before the board or a referee within 10 days of receiving the letter.
“Lorain City Schools is entrusted to provide safe, caring environments for our students, staff and all who enter our schools,” Graham said in a July statement. “Although we’re still engaged in due process, I really struggle with what I’ve seen in these videos, and I want to make it clear that anyone who violates our promise to take care of the children of Lorain is unwelcome here in our district.”
The teachers union in a July statement said Child Protective Services found the allegations against the teachers to be unsubstantiated.
“Intervening in a physical altercation where a staff member would potentially need to restrain or otherwise put their hands on a student requires specialized Crisis Prevention and Intervention training,” the statement reads. “Across the state, educators are specifically instructed not to intervene in a fight if they do not have that training. Lorain City Schools never offered that training or for that matter, any specific guidance as to how to handle student fights, to educators.”