CHARLESTON – Former Moorefield High School football coach and science teacher Brian Powell did not deserve a four-year suspension of his teaching licenses for lashing his son with a belt, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has decided.
The Justices unanimously ordered reinstatement of Powell's licenses Nov. 21, finding no reason why he should not resume his teaching career without further delay.
State Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine suspended Powell in 2005.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Louis Bloom upheld the suspension, and Attorney General Darrell McGraw defended it before the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The Justices overturned it. In an unsigned opinion, they held that Paine did not show how Powell's cruelty to his son affected his fitness to teach.
They called the suspension "the result of a fundamental misapplication of the law."
Powell lashed his nine year old son Sept. 26, 2004, after reading a disciplinary note his son brought home from Moorefield Elementary School.
Next day, his son told classmates his father had beaten him. Classmates told teachers, who examined his left shoulder and back in the principal's office.
A teacher called the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and all the weight of government crashed down on Powell.
The department removed the son, an older brother and a stepsister from the home.
The department filed an abuse and neglect action in Hardy County circuit court.
State Police and the county prosecutor charged Powell with felony abuse.
The county superintendent of schools suspended him with pay.
The prosecutor bargained down to a misdemeanor, domestic battery. Powell paid a fine and started serving 30 days of incarceration, on weekends and holidays.
The county superintendent suspended him without pay and recommended his discharge to the Hardy County Board of Education.
All this happened in five weeks.
At a school board hearing on Nov. 16, 2004, students testified for Powell and submitted petitions pleading for his reinstatement.
The board did not discharge Powell, but they continued his suspension without pay until a psychiatrist determined that he was not a danger to any Hardy County students.
Psychologist Allan LaVoie evaluated Powell and expressed an opinion that, "... he does not pose a significant risk to the students at Moorefield High School."
LaVoie wrote, "... he has in the past simply sent students to the principal's office rather than taking matters personally."
He found nothing to suggest the board needed to be unduly concerned about Powell's behavior at school.
The board returned Powell to classroom duties Jan. 12, 2005.
By that time the state had returned the children to the home. It looked like Powell's life would return to normal.
Nine months later, Powell received notice that the West Virginia Department of Education would initiate proceedings to revoke or suspend his licenses.
The department's professional practices panel held a hearing, found evidence of cruelty, and recommended suspension for four years.
Paine carried out the recommendation in December 2005.
Powell appealed to Kanawha Circuit Court, where Judge Bloom upheld the suspension in May 2006.
For Powell, James Haviland of Charleston petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeals to review the suspension.
The Court granted the petition in February and heard oral arguments in October.
None of the Justices found a rational connection between Powell's conduct and the performance of his job.
They declared that they failed to see what ill effects Powell's corporal punishment of his child would have on his fitness to teach or on the community.
"Nor do we see why suspending the teaching certificates for four years will somehow change Appellant so as to be fit to teach," they wrote.
They wrote that testimony and reports from four counselors all supported the conclusion that Powell posed no threat to children in his classroom or other students.
They wrote, "Additionally, our thorough and complete examination of the record did not disclose that Appellant exhibited any cruel behavior or even display a mean disposition to students or school personnel in any situation…"
Finally they praised Powell's commitment to his family. He pleaded guilty, they wrote, so he could have the children returned as soon as possible.
They wrote, "The commitment of both parents to the family unit is repeatedly demonstrated in the record."
Justices Larry Starcher and Brent Benjamin apparently intend to sharpen the point of the majority. They reserved the right to file concurring opinions.