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January 27, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Judge: Reinstate Wenatchee teacher fired over drowning

The Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee High School teacher and coach Ed Knaggs should be reinstated to his job and awarded back pay, says a ruling Monday by Chelan Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan.

Allan reversed an earlier administrative decision terminating Knaggs from his job with the Wenatchee School District after the drowning of high-school freshman Antonio Reyes during a physical-education class Knaggs supervised Nov. 17, 2011.

“The actions of the district and its administrators significantly contributed to creating a situation where a student could drown,” Allan said in her ruling.

“We agree with Judge’s Allan’s ruling and are happy that he will be reinstated to his job, mindful of the tragedy at the heart of this case,” said Knaggs’ attorney, Quentin Batjer, when contacted by phone Monday. Batjer said he spoke with Knaggs  and that he expressed great “satisfaction, tempered by the fact that this was a tragic situation.”

Based on the ruling, Batjer said he will prepare an order for the court and the district calling for Knaggs’ reinstatement and nine months of back pay.

Contacted Monday evening, Wenatchee School District Superintendent Brian Flones said it was too soon to comment on whether the district would appeal Allan’s decision. He planned to discuss the matter in executive session before a School Board meeting Tuesday, but no action would be taken until the order is reviewed.

The school district fired Knaggs April 20, 2012. Knaggs was the only adult supervisor on hand for a P.E. class of 26 students when the drowning occurred. The district alleged that Knaggs did not properly assess the student’s swimming abilities before allowing him to participate in the class at the pool’s deep end.

Knaggs appealed the firing, which was then upheld by an administrative judge last March. He filed an appeal to Chelan County Superior Court, which was heard Nov. 15. Allan took more than two months to make her ruling.

Allan blamed the district for putting Knaggs in the position of being a lifeguard, swim tester, swim teacher and fitness instructor in charge of classes of 26 to 38 students.

“That’s certainly asking too much of anyone to fulfill all those duties,” she said during the court hearing. “If the district had complied with state law, a student likely wouldn’t have drowned.”

Reyes did not know how to swim and had missed an earlier swim-assessment test that would have made teachers aware of the fact.

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