Parent sues Gateway administrator
Editor’s note: A story in the May 30 print edition of the Times Express incorrectly linked Gateway School District parent Janette Beighel’s children to allegations by another parent – Tammy Aikins – that Aikins’ child was being bullied.
A Gateway parent and former teacher’s aide has sued the school district’s superintendent for allegedly violating her constitutional rights.
Tammy Aikins, 45, alleges that Superintendent Bill Short retaliated against her by not allowing her to work in the district after going to the media with a story about her children being bullied at school.
The story aired on Tribune-Review news partner WPXI on April 25, 2018. At the time, Aikins said she was appealing the district’s decision to ban her from entering one of her child’s classrooms. She said she had tried since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year to address bullying between her son and another student.
Aikins said the district ignored the issue, so she took matters into her own hands and boarded her son’s school bus in August 2017 and confronted her son’s alleged bully.
Aikins claims she gained permission to get onto the school bus. The video, which the Tribune-Review obtained and reviewed, does not appear to show Aikins getting permission from the bus driver.
Upon entering the school bus, Aikins asks the bus driver who was bullying her 5-year-old son and then tries to identify “the little boy who did it” by asking a student attempting to exit the bus. When she raises her voice, the bus driver tells Aikins to “calm down.”
Aikins says in a loud voice, “I will not have you bullying my 5-year-old son. You know what you did,” to the child after he asks her what he did.
“I’m not doing it. I hope everybody hears me, I’m not doing it this year,” Aikins shouted. “This is like the bad bus and I’m sick of it. Don’t bully kids.”
The school district reported the incident to the Monroeville police but police did not press charges and closed the case in September 2017.
In a complaint filed in January to the Western District of Pennsylvania U.S. District Court, Aikins alleges going to the media “was a substantial motivating factor” behind Short prohibiting her from working within the school district. Aikins’ attorney, Jennifer Price, argues this was a violation against the freedom of speech clause in the state and federal constitution.
Aikins, who transferred her children to Franklin Regional School District in August 2018, demanded a jury trial and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
“She moved as a result of all this. She’s kinda had enough,” Price said of Aikins.
Price said that her client’s demand of a jury trial doesn’t mean Aikins is unwilling to negotiate a settlement, but wanted to “preserve her rights” to a trial if the case progresses to that.
Through attorney John Smart, Short responded in a court filing by saying the school district investigated Aikins’ original claims of her children being bullied and “ultimately determined that no such bullying occurred.”
He also said Aikins entered a school bus illegally and “began yelling at children who she believed to be bullying her child.”
After that incident, Short said Aikins was prohibited from participating in school functions where the children allegedly involved in bullying would be present.
“This ban was placed on (Aikins) out of concern for the children that had been involved in the previous incident as a protective measure in order to ensure that these children would not be subject to similar behavior by (Aikins) again,” Short said in court documents.
At that time, the ban had no effect on her employment as a teacher aide in the district, Short said. Short said in court documents he prohibited her from working within the district because of the “numerous threats from listeners” of news stories and determined her employment at the district “had caused a volatile environment within the work place.”
Short, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, asked a judge to dismiss the charges against him.
Judge Robert C. Mitchell appointed a mediator and referred the case to alternative dispute resolution April 5. All parties were scheduled to meet with a mediator May 20.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .