DUNDEE — Nicknaming a female student “Yummy,” rubbing another female student’s shoulders during class and giving students he liked preferential treatment are just some of the allegations made against the Dundee High School teacher the district is fighting to fire.
The district filed paperwork in Yates County Court in June seeking to change the punishment for Douglas Coleman from a six-month suspension without pay to dismissal.
Coleman is a tenured social studies teacher who has been with the district since 1983.
Included in the paperwork are details on the allegations of “conduct unbecoming a teacher and insubordination” from the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years that led the district to hold disciplinary hearings throughout last year.
The district says Coleman threatened to kill a ninth-grader in 2007 for talking and not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance.
“He didn’t rise. He made me mad as hell,” Coleman said during testimony at one of his hearings. “I got really pissed off about that, because I talked to him before, and I yelled at him and told him to get out and then I said something, in substance or words, to, you know, if you do that again, I’ll have to kill you, or something like that … He made me really angry.”
Giving students inappropriate nicknames was a recurring theme throughout his latest disciplinary hearing and going back as far as 1993, according to court documents.
According to hearing testimony included in the filing, the student Coleman allegedly referred to as “Yummy” said she thought the nickname was “perverted and weird.”
Coleman claimed the nickname wasn’t sexual in nature but meant to indicate she had a “hunger for knowledge.” Other nicknames he allegedly used from 2006 to 2008 included “Speedy” and “Zebby.”
Additional nicknames Coleman has been cited as using as far back as 1996 include “Troll,” “Mother,” “Grunt,” “Dr. Death,” “Weasel,” “Half One,” “Sissy,” “Haze” and “Genius.”
He also allegedly called one overweight student “Shamu.”
According to the court documents, the student he referred to as “Speedy” said Coleman would tell her she was “looking good” on days she wore a dress, and another student in her class said he noticed she got special attention.
“One day [the girl] went tanning and got a burn,” the student said at the hearings. “Mr. Coleman touched the burned area on her body, above [her] chest [and] below [her] neck.”
The girl also said he would rub her shoulders, once grabbed a necklace off her chest and touched her hair.
She said she went along with the special treatment because it was beneficial.
“I just figured that I’d get good grades out of it,” she said. “I didn’t want to get on his bad side.”
The court filings also detail an incident in which Coleman allegedly used a female student to demonstrate how a medieval torture device worked.
The documents say he instructed her to come up onto his desk, grabbed her by the rib cage, then had her lay down. He then allegedly pulled on the girls arms, making her shirt come up, and grabbed her thighs.
According to hearing testimony, Coleman asked another student to help with the demonstration, but that student refused. That student later said he instinctively knew something inappropriate was happening.
Coleman also is accused of creating a final exam for a 12th-grade participation in government class that included inappropriate vocabulary words and a cartoon of aliens with a caption that included the names of a student with Asperger’s syndrome and his consulting special education teacher.
District officials said Coleman tried to explain the inappropriate vocabulary words by saying they were meant as a joke.
A Dundee High School French teacher testified that she found the student with Asperger’s crying in the hallway after receiving a copy of the test.
“It meant I was weird, strange, abnormal,” the student testified.
Coleman was suspended from the district June 1, the third time he’s been placed on leave after complaints of misconduct. He was first suspended in April 1997 and again in early 2008. He has not taught in a classroom since his last suspension in 2008 but has been working in the district writing class curriculums.
The court documents indicated Coleman faced sexual harassment charges in the 1990s, but they were dropped.
The district also is fighting the decision by Hearing Officer Dennis Campagna that it must continue to pay for Coleman’s health and dental insurance. It is seeking a stay on those payments and reimbursement from Coleman for any health insurance contributions already made by the district.
Campagna made an almost identical decision in the case of Michael Nicot, a former Midlakes math teacher who was found with pornography on his school laptop. That decision was thrown out in Ontario County Court by Judge Frederick Reed for being too lenient.
The Dundee School District is seeking a similar ruling, saying Campagna’s decision is excessively lenient and in violation of strong public policy.
“[Coleman]’s conduct put students at significant risk both emotionally and physically,” states the documents written by Eric Wilson of Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz in East Syracuse, the same law firm that represented Midlakes in the Nicols case.
But in his decision Campagna said Coleman’s track record as an educator, which included many positive evaluations, shouldn’t be discounted completely because of his misconduct.
“It is [Coleman]’s extremely poor judgment and impetuous nature that lures him into trouble,” Campagna wrote in his decision.
“[Coleman] is placed on clear notice that this will be his last chance to demonstrate that he is capable of good judgment in his day-to-day interaction with students. As a sports fan, I am sure that [Coleman] can appreciate that this decision represents his last and final strike.”