PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

May 23, 2013

Association, teacher say Gunner incapable of attack

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Becky Veazey has trouble believing that her former colleague, Ruby Gunner, has the capacity for violence towards anyone — much less her own student.

“A person does not change their character overnight,” said Veazey, a retired Port Arthur Independent School District teacher. “We do not accept that she just walked into a room and started beating on a kid. Her students are her life. She wouldn’t do that.”

Because of this conviction, Veazey — along with other members of the Port Arthur Teachers Association and former parents and students associated with Gunner — will gather at the PAISD administration building, 4801 Ninth Ave., today at 5 p.m. to silently show support for their fellow teacher.

Gunner, 62, a fourth-grade teacher at Lee Elementary and longtime PAISD employee, was accused on April 5 of assaulting and choking an 11-year-old student. She was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury on May 17, and is currently suspended from work with pay. At tonight’s meeting, set for 5:30 p.m., the district will determine whether to continue Gunner’s suspension without pay.

Several other items of importance are on the board’s agenda for the meeting, including the appointment of an interim superintendent and discussion of superintendent search firms.

“This matter continues to be a situation that’s being addressed in the legal system, and also is under review and consideration by the Port Arthur Independent School District to determine the best course of action to take based upon the information that we have available to us through the investigation,” said PAISD Superintendent Johnny E. Brown.

While Veazey did not deny that Gunner’s argument with the student became physical, she said that Gunner only acted out of self-defense. Veazey said the student attacked Gunner earlier in the day and ran out of her classroom. When the transition between classes occurred, he loudly proclaimed in another teacher’s classroom that he had “kicked Ms. Gunner in the stomach.”

“She simply went into the room to tell him that he should not be proud of something like that — at which point he proceeded to start pushing and shoving her again,” Veazey said. “That’s when the scuffle ensued. She was trying to subdue him and protect herself. If there were any marks on him, that’s where they came from. The choking incident is just not true.”

Veazey also pointed out that the student in question received zero discipline.

“The student was sent back to the classroom,” she said. “She appears to be the only one that is receiving the discipline. There’s something wrong with that.”

The association aims to show the public what a well-respected and admired member of the community Gunner is, Veazey said. She added that it is not board policy to suspend an employee without pay unless in the event of termination — something, Veazey said, the board has specifically stated they have no intention of doing.

“We’re just asking for her pay to continue until the courts have made a decision,” Veazey said. “If she’s found guilty, they can do what they need to do. But since she’s not guilty of anything, why would you take her pay?”

The Jefferson County Court will make that decision at a July 1 trial, according to Houston-based attorney Paul Darrow, who is representing Gunner.

“She’s been a respected teacher for 40 years and is a past president of the Port Arthur Teachers Association,” Darrow said. “We look forward to having our day in court to prove her innocence.”

That innocence is something Veazey firmly maintains. She speculated that the administration’s actions may be retribution for Gunner’s past disagreements with their policy.

“If there are issues that come up that affect employees of the Port Arthur Independent School District, it’s always me and Ruby defending the teachers,” Veazey said. “She’s been a thorn in their side and this is one way the superintendent can try to silence her.

“But that’s not going to happen.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA