Fulton County high school athletic director appeals suspension

A Fulton County high school athletic director is appealing a suspension after he was accused of pushing a student during a campus search for a handgun.

Kenneth Miller has been on paid leave from his post at Tri-Cities High School since shortly after the August incident, said his attorney, Allen Lightcap.

Fulton County Schools initially tried to fire Miller for allegedly reacting aggressively after the student knocked Miller’s cellphone out of his hand. The incident took place as Miller questioned the student about a weapon that was later discovered in the student’s bag, Lightcap said.

“Kenneth Miller did nothing wrong. He defended himself against a student who attacked him. The very student who attacked him brought a loaded gun to school that day,” Lightcap wrote in his appeal letter.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The district said Miller intervened inappropriately in a situation that school administrators and law enforcement were handling.

“Mr. Miller’s conduct resulted in an escalation of a physical altercation with a student in crisis, which conflicts with district expectations to deescalate in these types of situations,” the statement said.

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The student was arrested, Lightcap said. Documents he provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution state the student withdrew from the high school and did not provide a statement for the district’s personnel investigation report.

In January, Superintendent Mike Looney recommended Miller be fired. A termination hearing was halted by the district shortly after it began, Lightcap said.

Looney later recommended a lesser punishment of a 20-day unpaid suspension. An oral argument on the suspension is scheduled for Wednesday.

Lightcap is waging a campaign to show support for Miller, including a Thursday rally at an East Point church.

“We’ve now had to tell the story so he can come out of the shadows and be proud of what he did because people should be able to see what priorities the district has in this case,” Lightcap said.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

He said the district’s rules for suspending employees do not allow him to mount as robust of a defense as termination proceedings. At the halted termination hearing, he planned to call a dozen witnesses before a tribunal, which would make a recommendation to the school board.

A suspension procedure gives each side 30 minutes for oral arguments in front of a hearing officer, who makes a recommendation to the superintendent. The superintendent can then affirm or overturn his prior decision to suspend the employee. The superintendent’s decision is final.

In a March letter to Miller, Looney wrote that video footage of the incident shows Miller was not justified when he made physical contact with the student.

The athletic director was instructed by the principal to respond to a weapons situation, Lightcap said. He cited an internal report in which witnesses said the student acted as the aggressor. That report states that three witnesses did not see “any misconduct by Miller.”

“Teachers have a right to defend themselves,” Lightcap wrote in his appeal.

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Lightcap said his client has already been cleared by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which investigates complaints of improper conduct by educators. The commission’s legal officer confirmed the agency found “no probable cause to issue disciplinary action.”

In 2000, Miller received a reprimand from the commission, stemming from allegations he struck another coach after a middle school football game. Lightcap said Miller was in his first year of teaching and that he accepted the minor sanction “to get on with his career.”