Marlin Independent School District officials have fired a teacher who told students they were not smart enough to pass their end of course exams, Superintendent Michael Seabolt announced Wednesday.

Marlin ISD’s state-appointed board of managers approved terminating Claude Kelley’s probationary contract with the district Tuesday night, Seabolt wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald.

Kelley, who taught computer classes at Marlin High School, made the comment when he was helping administer an algebra end of course exam, Seabolt wrote.

“He told the kids only a couple of them were smart enough to pass the test,” Seabolt wrote. “He can file a grievance, but under state law a board’s decision on a probationary contract is final and may not be appealed.”

Seabolt was furious when he found out about the allegation, he said. The principal did an internal investigation, and Seabolt reviewed the findings and recommended the board fire the teacher, he said.

“My understanding is he did admit it to (human resources) but said he didn’t mean it in a bad way,” Seabolt wrote.

Kelley’s attorney, Kevin Lungwitz, said Seabolt’s story is not accurate, though he declined to give specifics of the incident.

“Mr. Kelley had an exchange with one student, not a classroom of students,” Lungwitz said. “Beyond that, we’re not going to comment about it in the public because of confidentiality rules regarding student discipline.”

The allegation comes at a critical time for the district.

Despite making significant gains last school year, Marlin ISD failed to meet state academic standards based on standardized test performance. The district has not met those standards for six consecutive years and has been fighting state closure for the last few.

It has been on the state’s improvement-required list longer than any other district still on the list.

Its governing board was removed more than a year ago and replaced with state appointees as part of the state’s intervention, and the Texas Education Agency has given the district yearlong abatement agreements, including one that will keep it open for next school year.

“I can’t say what impact (the comment) will have, but it is hard to believe comments like that will have a positive impact,” Seabolt wrote.

Before the board terminated Kelley’s probationary contract Tuesday, it had already voted April 17 not to renew his contract for next year, according to a grievance Lungwitz filed with the district May 8 on behalf of Kelley. Probationary contracts are good for a year and are generally given to educators who are in their first few years of teaching, are returning to teaching or are transferring districts. School boards have to vote each year on whether to renew probationary contracts.

Lungwitz filed the grievance after Kelley learned of the board’s non-renewal vote. The grievance alleges Kelley’s evaluation by the district was invalid and that he did not have a required conference to review the evaluation before the board voted.

Kelley states he received information on his evaluation April 27, a week after the board voted not to renew his contract. He also states the evaluation did not include required walk-throughs, goal-setting conferences and other data and that a classroom observation was shorter than required.

“I am being fired because of a grading dispute last year, or because of my work-related injuries, or because of my disabilities,” Kelley’s grievance states.

Kelley was injured on the job in November 2016 as a basketball coach for Marlin ISD, Lungwitz said. Kelley may need a knee replaced in the near future and is likely running up some of the district’s health bills, Lungwitz said. He did not, however, say whether the termination and the injury might be related.

Lungwitz said he thinks the district is retaliating against Kelley because of the grievance he filed.

“Why would they go back last night and fire him again if they had already done that three or for weeks ago?” Lungwitz said. “There was no need to do that unless they were trying to patch up something they didn’t do correctly a month ago.”

It remains unclear whether Kelley will file another grievance with the district. Lungwitz said he and his client will be discussing all legal options, including the possibility of filing a complaint against Seabolt to the TEA regarding possible ethical boundaries that might have been crossed in revealing sensitive personnel matters.

Seabolt said he will refer the district’s investigation to the State Board of Education, which could affect Kelley’s teaching certification.

Seabolt said the grievance already filed “is of no concern to the district in regards to his future employment.”

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