Fulton County high school athletic director loses appeal over suspension

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney recently upheld his decision to suspend a Tri-Cities High School athletic director for pushing a student during a campus search for a handgun.

Kenneth Miller will serve a 20-day unpaid suspension from April 11 to May 6. His attorney, Allen Lightcap, blasted the decision in a written statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“If a teacher cannot protect himself in these circumstances, there is no right to self-defense in Fulton County Schools for teachers,” Lightcap said.

Miller appealed the punishment after he was accused of using unjustified physical contact when he pushed a student who had knocked a cell phone out of his hand. The August incident occurred as Miller questioned the student about a gun.

Lightcap said the student brought a loaded gun to school and passed it to another student. It was one of two guns found on campus that day, according to school police records.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which investigates complaints of improper conduct by educators, previously cleared Miller.

Looney initially planned to fire Miller but then lowered his punishment to a suspension. A hearing officer listened to Miller’s appeal in March and recommended Looney uphold the suspension.

In a statement to the AJC, the district said that a hearing officer “determined that Mr. Miller’s actions constituted, among other things, insubordination, willful neglect of duties, and unprofessional conduct, and that a 20-day suspension was appropriate and warranted.”

Hearing officer Brian Burgoon wrote that video shows Miller grabbed the student by the shirt with both hands and shoved her against a wall. That “significantly escalated the situation, causing the student to respond with even greater aggression,” he wrote in his review of the case, provided to the AJC by Lightcap.

Burgoon rejected Miller’s argument that he was defending himself. He wrote that while Miller was questioning the student about the location of a gun, the weapon was not in the room during the altercation.

Burgoon determined Miller reacted because the student slapped his cell phone out of his hand and “not due to a reasonable belief that he was in fear for his safety.”

But Lightcap contends the search for the weapon was the crux of the confrontation: “There is no greater danger in schools than guns.”

Miller wants to return to his Tri-Cities job. The district has not said where he will be assigned after he’s served his suspension.

Lightcap called Fulton’s appeal process “one-sided and legally insufficient” because he could not call witnesses or enter evidence. They now plan to fight the decision in federal court.