October 30, 2008 in City

Teacher back on job after gun arrest

Wallace district says safety isn’t threatened
Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

Code of ethics

 The code of ethics for Idaho teachers requires teachers to abide by all federal, state and local laws.

 “Unethical conduct may include the conviction of any felony or misdemeanor offense” but excludes infractions, according to the code.

 The code is enforced by the state Department of Education’s Professional Standards Commission. The commission acts on recommendations from school boards but will consider a request for review from anyone who can show the district and board have already reviewed it but residents’ concerns remain, according to Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

A second-grade teacher facing a criminal charge after Kellogg police say he waved a loaded gun at a man outside a bar returned to the classroom this week.

Protests over the return of Ethan Owens, 29, to Silver Hills Elementary in Osburn, Idaho, lasted one day. But parents say concerns remain about the school district’s decision to let him return to work after two weeks on paid leave.

“I can’t help but think about the bad example he’s setting,” said Jim Hayman, whose three children attend Silver Hills. “ ‘Hey, you can go out and do whatever the heck you want in your personal time, and we’re not going to do anything to you.’ ”

Parents of 24 students chose to keep them home Monday because of their concerns over the incident, according to the Wallace School District, including two students in Owens’ 15-student class. But everyone returned Tuesday, and attendance was normal Wednesday, Superintendent Bob Ranells said.

“I feel very confident that student and staff safety is not jeopardized here,” Ranells said. “The young man is a fine young teacher.”

While school officials in other districts say disciplinary procedures depend on the case, a teacher’s return to work before resolution of a criminal charge would be considered unusual.

A special-education teacher at a Central Valley School District elementary school has been on paid leave for nearly two months after police found three marijuana plants at his home and arrested him on suspicion of felony manufacturing of a controlled substance.

The Central Valley district typically waits for criminal procedures to wrap up before beginning a personnel investigation into employees suspected of crimes, spokeswoman Melanie Rose said.

Owens would still be off the job if prosecutors had pursued the felony assault charge he originally faced, Ranells said. The teacher now faces a charge of carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence, a misdemeanor.

“This goes into the category of someone who gets a DUI,” Ranells said. “The weapon may not have been a car, it may have been a weapon, a gun, but the gentleman hasn’t had his day in court.”

Police arrested Owens on Oct. 2 after witnesses said a man outside Eddie Joe’s bar in Kellogg asked the teacher for a cigarette. Owens told the man he didn’t have a cigarette, “but I have this,” and he pulled out a loaded handgun, witnesses told police.

A clip fell from the weapon as the man requesting a cigarette grabbed the gun from Owens, who had fallen, and gave it to the bar’s owner, according to a police report.

Owens, who has worked in the Wallace district for five years, did not respond to a request for an interview.

Ranells learned of Owens’ arrest after reading an Oct. 5 newspaper article. He called him the next day and placed him on paid administrative leave, which the school board formally approved at its Oct. 13 meeting. At that meeting, the board instructed Ranells to conduct an investigation and decide whether Owens should return.

Ranells reviewed police reports and spoke with a lawyer for the district in Boise. On Oct. 17, he and Silver Hills Principal Todd Howard met with Owens and a man who offered Owens legal advice and whom Ranells declined to identify. The goal was to determine whether Owens could still be a good teacher, Ranells said.

“It was very positive and productive,” he said, and he decided to bring Owens back.

Ranells said he’s received three complaints about Owens’ return, including two from people outside the school district. Parents of students in Owens’ class were more upset about his absence than about his charge, Ranells said.

“The kids were absolutely euphoric that he was going to return,” he said. “They were tired of substitute teachers – they wanted the real McCoy.”

Owens had a great three days back at work, Ranells said.

“Every day, this person is going to be under a terrific microscope,” he said. “We are going to be checking every day.”

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