The Flint Journal, April 18, 2000

Teacher accused of assault might return to classroom
Matt Bach
Journal Education Writer

FLINT A teacher accused of assaulting a Flint Northwestern Edison student in September could be back in the classroom in a month. An attorney for the district is recommending the Board of Education give Northwestern teacher Isiah Gates a one-month unpaid suspension, which would have him back in the district in late May. It is unknown if Gates would return to the same classroom or building.

The board will consider the attorney's recommendation at 7 p.m. Wednesday during its regular meeting in the Sarvis Center. The board will first meet with Gates in closed session prior to its regular meeting, said school attorney Kendall B. Williams.

"You can rest assured the school district is not allowing any teacher in the classroom ... if we were not convinced the teacher was a safe person," Williams said.

Gates, 43, of Flint, who has been on paid leave from the district since the Sept. 20 incident, also is facing criminal charges in the incident.

The former Flint Northern High School assistant football coach was arraigned Nov. 17 in Flint District Court on charges he assaulted the 14-year-old student.

The court complaint alleged Gates grabbed and choked the teen and pushed his head against a wall in a high school pool area. Gates pleaded not guilty and was ordered to have no contact with the student.

He is scheduled for a pretrial conference before Judge Peter Anastor at 2 p.m. May 8. Gates is free on a $1,500 personal bond.

The school board in November decided to proceed with disciplinary action against Gates - a tenured teacher - and send the matter to the Michigan Tenure Commission, which must approve all disciplinary action appealed by a tenured teacher.

The district was recommending Gates be suspended without pay for 10 weeks or one semester, said Harvey I. Wax, the attorney for Gates in the tenure commission matter.

Wax said the one-month suspension is part of a compromise reached with the school district after the student's doctor testified before a tenure-commission-appointed administrative law judge in mid-March.

Flint Dr. Tommy Stevens testified that the student's injuries, including bruises to his neck, were not consistent with a beating but with marks suffered by someone restrained, Williams said.

Wax and school board members who have supported Gates said the teacher was provoked by the student and was merely trying to get the teen under control.

Williams that a semester-long suspension was too severe a penalty, he said it did not absolve Gates of all wrongdoing.

"I felt (one month) was reasonable," Williams said. "But in a situation like this where you got a student out of control, there are other ways to deal with it. You could grab a police liaison officer to get the student under control."

Wax, of Farmington Hills, said his client agreed to the one-month suspension because they feared a more severe punishment if the case went to the tenure commission.

Wax said the commission has been hard on teachers, sometimes giving penalties more severe than the ones recommended by the administrative law judge.

Part of the settlement includes Gates admitting fault. The settlement also will go in Gates's otherwise flawless personnel file, Wax said.

"I've worked with many teachers over the years - some good ones and unfortunately some bad ones on much more serious charges," Wax said. "I'm very impressed with Isiah Gates. He's a very good teacher who understands kids and is going to have wonderful career."

Matt Bach covers education issues and the Flint School District. He can be reached at (810) 766-6330.

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