The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
In a narrow 4-3 decision, the Port Arthur Independent School District board of trustees approved the proposed termination of Robert E. Lee Elementary teacher Ruby Gunner at a meeting on Thursday.
The board reached the decision after meeting in closed session to discuss the termination of Gunner, who has been suspended without pay since May. The fourth grade teacher was indicted in May 2013 on one charge of injury to a child in connection to allegations that she assaulted an 11-year-old student.
A third-degree felony, injury to a child is punishable by two to 10 years imprisonment, with a fine of up to $10,000.
Gunner has maintained that any injuries the child sustained occurred only in self defense, while the child’s mother said that Gunner entered another teacher’s classroom and began choking her son after a prior altercation.
Trustees Thomas Kinlaw, Robert Reid and Tracy Thomas were the dissenting votes. Reid expressed concern about potential legal fallout if Gunner is found not guilty when her case reaches trial in February. If that is the case, he said, she could possibly file for wrongful termination and legal fees.
Reid suggested that the district take a different avenue rather than simply cutting its losses.
“I want us to prevent legal expenses in settlements that the district has had in the past,” Reid said. “We are moving in a positive direction with Mark as superintendent concerning how we handle campus and personnel matters, and we can continue that success with legal matters if we are proactive in how we handle incidents such as the one with Ms. Gunner.”
Gunner will receive a letter from the board notifying her that she has the option of requesting the appointment of a hearing officer by the Commissioner of Education, PAISD attorney Melody Chappell said. She will then have 15 days to appeal her termination. Once the appeals process is complete, the board will make the final decision within 45 days.
Chappell said that the verdict of Gunner’s trial had little bearing on the district’s decision.
“Her guilt or innocence has nothing to do with the district’s investigation,” Chappell said.