May 24, 2007 in City

Ex-teacher fights loss of license

By The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – A former Spokane Valley private school teacher appeared before education officials here Wednesday in an attempt to clear his record.

“I have nothing to hide,” said Steve Altmeyer, a former boys basketball coach and teacher at Valley Christian School accused of physically and verbally abusing students.

After a two-year investigation into his behavior, state officials proposed suspending Altmeyer’s teaching license for 30 months. In order to get his license back, the teacher and coach would need to undergo a psychological evaluation and complete any recommended treatment.

Altmeyer, 52, appealed the decision in September, and on Wednesday got a chance to argue against the state’s findings during an informal hearing with a professional conduct advisory committee with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“The idea of a review committee is to screen these cases and second-guess the state’s findings,” said Altmeyer’s attorney, Bill Powell.

Informal hearings for professional conduct issues for educators are typically closed. But in this case, Altmeyer requested that a reporter from The Spokesman-Review be allowed to attend.

Committee member George Crawford, with the Washington Association of School Administrators, asked Altmeyer why he would ask for a reporter to be present.

Altmeyer responded by saying that he was not trying to hide anything.

The controversy surrounding Altmeyer began in 2004, when Valley Christian School parted ways with the coach amid allegations he had mistreated students.

Although the investigation stems from conduct at a private school, Altmeyer is a certified educator and subject to the state’s code of professional conduct.

Allegations were also made against Wes Evans, the former head administrator. A parent group claimed Evans knew of Altmeyer’s behavior toward students but did not report it.

Evans was cleared of any wrongdoing by the state last year, but not before the school board made a decision to discontinue his contract.

Both Altmeyer and Evans have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

On Wednesday state Assistant Attorney General Dierk Meierbachtol argued that the state’s investigation revealed a pattern of violent behavior by Altmeyer, including the bullying and intimidation of students.

According to state records, during the 1999-2000 school year Altmeyer allegedly told a 13-year-old boy that he was “not in God’s favor” for being obese and often referred to the boy as “Fatty” and Tubby.”

The boy would often leave class crying because the teacher had called him names, the records state.

The records also state that while coaching boys basketball, Altmeyer struck students in the chest on at least two occasions and kicked a student in the genitals for “not properly completing a maneuver,” during basketball practice.

Altmeyer’s attorney, however, argued that much of the state’s investigation is based on hearsay and was fueled by a power struggle between several families and the school.

“I’ve been coaching for over 30 years. If I’m this kind of person, this is going to show up,” Altmeyer said.

Altmeyer said that allegations about his behavior only came forward after a former basketball player was denied a request to transfer to another school.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association requires a student wanting to transfer to get consent from his or her previous school to play sports at the new school.

Altmeyer also said he was never made aware of many of the allegations and had no opportunity to respond.

The former teacher did not argue against the state’s finding that he struck a student in the chest, leaving a bruise. According to the records, during the 2001-2002 school year after a basketball game, Altmeyer struck player Joel Knigge in the chest. Knigge “had difficulty breathing during strenuous activity for about 10 days afterwards,” the records show.

Altmeyer’s attorney argued that many of the witness statements, including those from Knigge, were part of a crusade created by several parents to derail the school’s administration.

The school, once operated as a ministry of the Valley Fourth Memorial Church, lost its home on the church grounds in 2005 after more than 30 years in that location, due in part to the controversy swirling around it.

The school is now based at the old University High School through a lease agreement with the Central Valley School District.

The state argued that the decision was based purely on findings of fact surrounding the treatment of students.

“This case has nothing to do with administrative politics at VCS,” Meierbachtol said. “It’s about behavior.”

A decision by the review committee on whether to dismiss the suspension won’t be known for several weeks, state officials said. After a decision is reached, Altmeyer has 30 days to appeal it and ask for a formal review with an administrative law judge in Spokane. Witnesses would be called to testify during that hearing.

Altmeyer can keep teaching while his case is under appeal.

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