Fired Everett teacher going back to work

EVERETT — A journalism teacher fired for helping students publish an underground newspaper can return to the classroom under an agreement reached Friday with the Everett School District.

Kay Powers will receive full back pay for her time away and take an assignment at Henry M. Jackson High School later this month.

And the school district is no longer seeking to have her teaching credentials revoked.

“It should never have happened in the first place,” said Kim Mead, president of the Everett Education Association. “I am overjoyed and thrilled that Kay is back where she should have been the whole time.”

Under the deal, the 65-year-old Powers will resign effective Aug. 31, 2009, and will not teach journalism. She could not be reached for comment.

The district issued a one-sentence statement late Friday afternoon. It said: “The Everett School District and Kay Powers are pleased to announce that they have resolved their dispute to their mutual satisfaction.”

The settlement will save money and staff time during what was expected to be a three-day hearing next week, said Valerie Hughes, an attorney representing the school district. The district was confident in the strength of its case against Powers, she said.

“It seemed like the prudent thing to do was to put the focus back on students and their academic achievement,” Hughes said. “WASL week is next week and budget issues are always foremost in the minds of any school district.”

Powers in June was placed on administrative leave from Cascade High School. The English and journalism teacher was accused of helping students produce an underground paper, The Free Stehekin, during school hours and on school computers despite being warned not to do so. She was fired in November.

In the firing letter, Superintendent Carol Whitehead outlined several reasons for Powers’ dismissal, saying the teacher violated district policies and Whitehead’s directives.

Powers has been teaching for 34 years, including 22 years in the Everett district. She appealed the firing and asked for an open hearing, which was scheduled to begin next Wednesday.

Her colleagues and former students said they said were glad to learn Powers will be returning to the classroom.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Mike Therrill, a Cascade history teacher. “The students at Jackson have a real opportunity. I really do think (the district) thought she would blink and she didn’t, but they did.”

“I’m really happy that she will be teaching in the schools again,” said Brynn Eden, a Cascade senior who worked with Powers as an editor of Tyro, a student-run literary magazine at Cascade.

“This is a complete victory and total vindication of Kay Powers,” said Mike Wartelle, a teachers’ union representative.

After firing Powers, the school district filed a report with the state’s Office of Professional Practices, which could have led to the revocation of her teaching credentials. District officials said they were following legal requirements in filing the report.

As part of the deal reached Friday, the district agreed to notify the state agency that the matter has been resolved.

The problem at Cascade came at a time when the district was fighting for the administration’s pre-publication review of student newspapers at its high schools.

The district earlier this year settled a lawsuit with two former Everett High School student editors, filed in 2005 after administrators demanded to review each issue of that school’s student newspaper, The Kodak, before publication.

After that, students at Everett and Cascade high schools published newspapers off school grounds. Cascade High’s student arts and literary magazine, Tyro, also went underground. Powers was adviser of the school-sanctioned Stehekin and Tyro before the lawsuit.

While still with the district, Powers last May filed a sworn statement in the federal court case supporting The Kodak students. Shortly afterward, the district met with an investigator on Powers’ alleged misconduct, according to one of her attorneys, Mitch Cogdill.

David Whittemore, a junior last year, was managing editor of the Free Stehekin when he was caught using a Cascade computer to download files from his e-mail account onto a personal laptop. That incident and his unexcused absences over a two-year period were cited when Whittemore was suspended last spring and later denied admission to Cascade for the current school year. Whittemore lives outside the district boundaries and was allowed to attend Cascade by getting special permission.

After a closed hearing between the teen and the superintendent, the Everett School Board decided to let Whittemore return for his senior year under several conditions, including restrictions on his use of school computers and classroom attendance.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail stevick@heraldnet.com.

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