CATOOSA — A veteran Catoosa middle school teacher who drove 11 students at once — including two in the latched car trunk — to a store for snacks was fired Wednesday night.
Following roughly a six-hour due-process hearing, the Catoosa school board voted 4-1 to terminate the employment of Heather Cagle, who taught at Wells Middle School, said Karen Long, an attorney who represents the school district.
A math and yearbook instructor, Cagle had been with the school 10 years, Long said in a telephone interview.
“Student safety and well-being are of paramount importance to the administration, and the administration respects and supports the board’s decision,” Superintendent Rick Kibbe said in a statement. “Catoosa Public Schools has and will continue to be a district which provides all students with a safe and appropriate learning environment.”
Cagle was suspended Oct. 23, two days after she decided to do “something sweet” for her yearbook students, she said, and take them to Wal-Mart for snacks, according to Long.
She piled 11 students ranging in age from 12 to 15 into a Honda Accord, placing two in the front seat, seven in the back seat and two 12-year-old girls in the trunk, Long said. The group traveled about one mile to a Wal-Mart, bought food items and returned to school, the attorney said.
Two students who were out of the classroom when the group left were left behind at the school, Long said.
Teachers are required to obtain signed parental-guardian permission before transporting children off campus, and “she acknowledged that she didn’t do so,” Long said of Cagle.
“In the end, the board was concerned that parents, grandparents, guardians send their kids to school every day with an expectation that they will receive education benefit during every course that they attend and that … rules regarding get-permission-first will be honored,” Long said. “Also, no parent or grandparent or guardian should ever expect that any teacher, particularly not an experienced teacher, will take their children off campus in the trunk of a personal vehicle.”
Cagle had an estimated 50 supporters at the hearing, said her attorney, Richard O’Carroll.
“Good teachers will let students do things like this to let students let off steam,” he said. “It was such a cowardly decision (by the school).
“… There is no question she is an exceptional teacher. In my opinion, she will land on her feet, and it’s going to be Catoosa’s loss.”