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3rd teacher removed from classroom following KUOW investigation

caption: West Woodland Elementary School is shown on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Seattle.
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West Woodland Elementary School is shown on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Martin McGowan, a first-grade teacher at West Woodland Elementary who had been disciplined for abuse including yanking kids’ ears and grabbing their necks, has been put on leave.

Principal Farah Thaxton informed parents of McGowan’s removal from the Ballard classroom two hours after the publication of a KUOW investigation into the teacher's treatment of kids – and the district’s lenient discipline for the abuse.

McGowan is the third teacher to be removed from the classroom after the publication of separate KUOW investigations into their conduct.

[Read the KUOW investigation into Martin McGowan.]

James Johnson, a math teacher at Washington Middle School in Seattle who had punched a student at his previous school, was escorted from his classroom on January 24. Rafaela Kayryakoff, a physical education teacher in Kent, was reassigned to the district office that same day, and resigned the next week.

[Read the KUOW investigation into James Johnson, and what two principals knew, and the fallout from these stories. And then listen to this audio.]

In all three cases, school leaders knew about the teachers’ past mistreatment of children before the KUOW stories broke. According to the school district, Thaxton learned about McGowan’s history of abuse in the classroom in June.

A previous West Woodland principal had disciplined McGowan in 2005, then again in 2006, writing that he had placed hands “on a child’s neck with enough force to cause red marks as noted by the parents of the child. The child says that he was lifted from the ground as [McGowan] took him to the hall.”

In her email to families on Friday afternoon, Thaxton wrote: “Our administrative team works with central office to implement the district’s discipline procedures, which are outlined in our Collective Bargaining Agreement with Seattle Education Association. Some situations are addressed at the school level and some are handled centrally. More details about the discipline process can be found in this Handling Employee Misconduct FAQ.”

Thaxton said she would hold an informal coffee chat for West Woodland parents from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, in the school library.

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