The Iowa Court of Appeals has vacated a district court decision to affirm disciplinary action taken against a middle school teacher and coach in West Branch accused of physically abusing a student.
Terry Christiansen, who is no longer a teacher at West Branch Middle School, appealed a Johnson County District Court’s decision to uphold disciplinary action taken by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners in 2009.
The board suspended Christiansen’s license to teach for 90 days and revoked his coaching and physical education endorsements. Christiansen had argued the board misapplied Iowa Code and imposed excessive sanctions that were not supported but substantial evidence.
The education board argued it acted properly and Christiansen’s request for judicial review was late, but the Iowa Court of Appeals this week vacated the district court’s orders upholding the sanctions.
The appellate court made its decision because, according to its written review, the district court did not acquire jurisdiction in the case, effectively making its ruling and decision on the merits of Christiansen’s petition void.
The petitions and appeals stem from an incident that occurred in September 2008 in a school bus. Christiansen was in the driver’s seat of the parked bus, waiting to drive the middle school football team from the high school to the middle school after practice, according to court documents.
When several students started a water fight in the back of the bus, Christiansen told them to stop and eventually went to the back of the bus to enforce his order, documents show. When one of the students made an obscene gesture at Christiansen, the teacher ordered the student off the bus.
Witnesses and the student said Christiansen grabbed the student’s arm and pushed him down the aisle, according to the court documents. Christiansen then is accused of tripping or stumbling in the aisle, accidently pushing the student down and falling into him.
The school board found Christiansen physically abused the student, leaving a bruise on his arm, and it terminated his teaching contract. In a criminal assault trial that followed, Christiansen was acquitted of the charges against him.
However, in considering that incident and two other prior instances where they say Christiansen responded “inappropriately,” board members revoked his coach and physical education endorsements.
Because of Christiansen’s long teacher history without adverse against, the board decided to only suspend his teaching certificate for 90 days “to underscore the seriousness of the founded assault charge,” according to court documents.