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Embattled JCPS teacher now under investigation was previously reprimanded for ‘angry’ response to a student

Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 4:04 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 30, 2021 at 7:28 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A JCPS teacher, seen in videos gripping a student’s hair during a fight, also was once accused of grabbing a student forcefully while teaching in Hardin County, newly obtained records show.

Videos of William Bennett, a science teacher at Moore High School, surfaced Aug. 24 on social media. The videos show Bennett on top of a student on the ground as two other students try to pull Bennett off. Other videos show Bennett refusing to let go of a student’s hair as a security monitor tries to pry Bennett’s hand open.

In an interview with WAVE 3 News, the student involved admitted to striking Bennett before the fight, after claiming Bennet told him he would “be another black boy shot.”

Last week, Hardin County Schools confirmed that in 2001, William Bennett’s teaching contract had not been renewed. These new records were maintained in his personnel file. The non-renewal letter does not state a reason why that decision was made.

According to a letter dated Sept. 15, 1999, which was written and signed by Bennett, he states the class was being loud and noisy during a video.

“After repeated attempts to quiet them down,” Bennett wrote, “I yelled and kicked a plastic trash can to get their attention. I stated they were acting like a bunch of monkeys.”

He continues that a student, whose name is blacked out, continued disrupting the class. When Bennett asked him how four hours of detention would sound, the student said, “f*** you,” Bennett wrote.

“I came around to his desk, grabbed the front of the desk and moved it towards the front of the desk, at the same time telling (the unnamed student) to get out,” Bennett wrote. “(Student) got out and the desk fell over.”

Bennett then escorted him down the hall, the letter states.

“(Student) said he was going to kick my ass,” Bennett continued. “I then stated I was not going to let some punk-ass kid talk to me that way.”

Bennett then stated he called the front office for assistance while the student took off down the hall before meeting up with two other school employees.

A letter written by the assistant principal at the time paints a slightly different picture, stating the student was walking toward him down the hall while Bennett was behind him yelling.

“Mr. Bennett caught up with him, grabbed him by the arm,” the assistant principal wrote. “The student jerked his arm away. I told Mr. Bennett I had the student and not to worry. Mr. Bennett grabbed the student again by the arm. The student jerked his arm away again.”

The assistant principal then described telling Bennett that he would take the student to the office and for Bennett to go back to class.

“Mr. Bennett tried to grab the student one more time and missed the student’s arm and got hold of the student’s shirt instead,” he continued. “At this time I grabbed Mr. Bennett’s hand and took it off the student. I asked another administrator to take the student while I talked to Mr. Bennett.”

Before reaching his room, Bennett yelled down the hall, “I don’t ever want that student in my class,” the documents state.

In a separate letter written by the student involved, the student admitted to cursing at Bennett during that same class. He added that Bennett had allegedly shoved him from the back while he was walking out of the classroom’s doors.

“I said. ‘Man, don’t touch me again,’” the student wrote. “Then he said, ‘You ain’t going to do nothing, you’re a punk anyway.’”

The student then said he started walking away from Bennett toward the office.

Other students in the class wrote letters corroborating the events, including that Bennett picked up the student’s desk, pushing him off of it and then pushed him out the door. One student wrote that Bennett threatened that if someone cursed at him again, “he will take our ass out and beat it.” According to that letter, the student claimed Bennett said “that if a student (unclear) him then he would take them out.”

In other letters, the student described Bennett as angry and cursing at the class, saying the class had “pissed” him off.

“Mr. Bennett flipped and went running across the room like a mad dog yelling,” another student letter states. “He looked like he was going to hit him but instead he grabbed the writing surface of the desk and started lifting it up and shaking it with (the student) in it. He tried I guess to drag it out but in the process threw (the student) out of it and hit a couple of other students with the desk and his flying arms.”

About a week after the incident, Bennett received a letter from the district superintendent at the time.

“Equally important, it is not an appropriate descriptor for you to tell students that they are acting like monkeys,” the superintendent at the time, Lois Gray, wrote. Gray reprimanded Bennett for “inappropriate behavior,” and cited kicking the trash can as an example of what not to do to gain the attention of the class. Gray also instructed Bennett not to grab a student’s desk or call them a “punk-ass kid.”

“You must remember that it is essential for you to remain the adult in charge,” Gray wrote. “While I understand that you may have been angry, it is important that you don’t speak until you are over your anger.”

Gray then instructs Bennett to watch a series of instructional tapes and to write as response to what was learned and a summary of appropriate teaching strategies.

After watching the videos, Bennett told Gray he learned nothing new, because the things described in the videos were things he learned from reading biblical scripture. He goes on to explain why he disagrees with one of the instructional tapes.

“Mr. Crum strives for a utopian society which is no different from what the liberal individuals were pushing in the 1960s,” he stated. He proceeds to defend his actions in the classroom that day, including kicking the trash can and using the language he did.

“I will continue to be who I am and that which God made me,” Bennett wrote. “I know my philosophy works as it has for many others who are successful leaders. I am also a good soldier and I will obey the orders you have given me even though I disagree.”

On April 25, Bennett was involved in another physical incident involving two students who began fighting in his class, the records state. Bennett describes in a letter that as he separated the students, he flipped backwards over a desk. He stated that he believed one of the students was going to attack him and forced him to the ground and held him there.

“Stay down, calm down son, you’re in a hell of a lot of trouble already,” he wrote.

An administrator was called and Bennett described the student coming at him again while the student cursed at him and tried to punch him, he wrote.

“I grabbed his shoulder to keep him from attacking me again,” he said. “Mr. Vowels said, ‘Don’t touch him,’ as he pushed my hand away.”

The students wrote letters stating Bennett also had broken one student’s watch while holding one of them down, and said he hadn’t punched the student because he “didn’t want to hurt him,” the document states. One student described Bennett as acting in self-defense during that incident. There were no other documents from the administration or the district related to that day in his file.

The Hardin County Board of Education meeting minutes on Aug. 17, 2000, list Bennett as the only certified teacher who was not renewed. The documents show 14 other certified teachers were hired by the county that school year.

Bennett went on to work as a teacher in Nelson, Bullitt and Jefferson counties.

Two days after classes began this year, and he was transferred from Male High School to Moore High School, Bennett was involved in the most recent incident.

He’s maintained that the student’s description of his actions are not true. His teaching certification, issued by the state, shows it as current.

JCPS has reassigned him pending the outcome of an investigation, they said.

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