Mother of student in school fight video asks about teacher who fought him

Woman wants to know how William Bennett ‘slipped through the cracks’
Arrest records for a JCPS teacher seen on video fighting with a student did not show up during his background check, WAVE 3 News has learned.
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 4:53 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Arrest records for a JCPS teacher seen on video fighting with a student did not show up during his background check, WAVE 3 News has learned.

The arrest documents for William Bennett from the early 2000′s can no longer be found in court or police records.

However, other documentation of those arrests still exists. One of those incidents was documented by Elizabethtown High School in Bennett’s personnel file, as part of the reason why he was fired.

The arrests are just one element of Bennett’s troubled past that was never disclosed on his application at JCPS.

Bennett was seen last month on cellphone videos fighting a student in the hallway at Moore High School. The videos include the moment when a school security monitor tried to get Bennett to let go of the student’s hair.

The district placed Bennett on administrative reassignment during its investigation.

WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters looked into Bennett’s past and found a series of documented complaints by students and administrators from each of the four other school districts where Bennett previously worked. Those complaints and disciplinary documents include an allegation that he grabbed a student by the arm and didn’t let go, telling sexual jokes and an investigation that found he’d made a series of “inappropriate comments.” He was also accused of impeding that investigation.

Though the details of Bennett’s hiring at JCPS haven’t been released, the mother of the student involved in the fight last month said she wants to know how Bennett was hired in the first place.

“I want answers,” Erica Strane, 16-year-old Jamir Strane’s mother, told WAVE 3 News. “I want answers on how this man slipped through the cracks.”

His teaching history began in 1998 at Hardin County High School. From there, Bennett worked at Elizabethtown High School, then Nelson County High School, then North Bullitt High School, before being hired at JCPS’s Male High School. He was later transferred to Moore.

Elizabethtown’s files from 2001 confirmed he’d been arrested for breaking into his girlfriend’s house. According to the News Enterprise, he also was convicted of a misdemeanor related to an assault involving his own relatives.

Just before coming to JCPS, Bennett went before a tribunal after appealing a suspension to the Education Professional Standards Board, which is part of the Kentucky Department of Education. Tribunals are akin to a mini-hearing, with evidence presented and a panel of three people making a ruling.

Bennett had been suspended by the Bullitt County superintendent after an investigation found that he’d made “inappropriate comments” to his students over a period of time included statements such as:

+ “Are you watching animal porn again”

+ “I could just slap you”

+ “Feminists are modern-day Nazis”

+ “I love guns; I love the 2nd Amendment; take it away, I’ll shoot you”

+ “Transgenders are non-binary”

The tribunal, which included testimony from some of the students who had come forward, reversed the five-day suspension. The documents state that the tribunal believed the students had “characterized Bennett’s comments inaccurately because of their disagreement with his opinions about social, political or religious matters.” They added Bennett’s explanations for his comments were “credible.”

None of that history, including the tribunal, his firing from Elizabethtown High School, the arrests or the allegations of inappropriate comments from the other schools was reflected in his application at JCPS or found through the vetting process, which JCPS said is done at the district level.

Erica Strane said that’s not an excuse.

“McDdonald’s has a harder hiring process than JCPS does,” Strane said. “You know, they’re not just hiring anybody.”

JCPS told WAVE 3 News it requires a background check, as does the state when certifying teachers. The Kentucky State Police and FBI conduct those checks. Bennett’s arrests never showed up, something that happens if someone’s criminal history is expunged.

Neither JCPS nor the EPSB specifically asked about any prior arrests or expungements on their applications. They did ask whether the applicant has any prior convictions or pending cases.

Contrary to how the state now keeps a tally of problem officers, there is currently no such readily accessible resource when it comes to teachers for districts to quickly check.

According to Wayne Young, an attorney with the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, districts used to be able to log onto the EPSB’s website and check a teacher’s history. But, he said that ability no longer exists.

“There was a policy decision made to remove that access from local districts,” Young said. “So it’s not that easily available anymore.”

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Tony Konz Tatman said the EPSB tracks disciplinary issues, but districts have to submit an open-records request for that information.

Young did not comment on Bennett, but said districts are not required to check with the EPSB, and staffing levels make it difficult.

“It’s really tough for one person spending part of his or her time on these things to be able to track it all down,” Young said. “It’s voluminous.”

When WAVE 3 News knocked on his door, Bennett did not make himself available for comment. JCPS refused to speak about his employment or hiring because of the pending investigation, the district said.

JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said the district’s hiring process includes a questionnaire for an applicant’s references.

In Bennett’s case, all his references were teachers instead of a current principal or administrator.

Other red flags on his application to Male High School included a reference to his resume, but JCPS said there was no resume in his file. He also skipped mentioning his time working in Hardin County, though other letters indicate he worked there. Bennett also answered “no” when asked if he ever had a case presented before the EPSB.

Strane said these issues could have been caught, had someone simply picked up the phone.

“That’s not OK,” she said. “Everybody should be able to see your past.

“We’re dealing with people who are dealing with our children, you know? I just don’t think anybody should be able to work with our kids.”

On his Facebook page, Bennett has denied the allegations stemming from the Moore incident, but added that his attorney advised him not to comment further.

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