Oklahoma City teacher fired after reportedly holding student’s head to the ground

Paula Lewis listens to Sean McDaniel during the Oklahoma City Public School Board meeting Monday, April 12, 2021.

An Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher accused of physically abusing an 11-year-old student has been fired.

Stephen Gainor, a special education teacher at Webster Middle School, reportedly placed the student in an improper hold in his classroom and held the child’s head against the ground for more than three minutes, according to a school district record documenting the incident.

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An assistant principal witnessed the Feb. 16 incident and urged Gainor to stop at least three times, records state. Gainor told the assistant principal “it was fine” as he held the student’s left hip bone and head against the ground, the district alleged.

Other administrators who entered the room reported seeing Gainor sitting on the student as he held the boy to the floor.

The district Board of Education voted unanimously to fire Gainor immediately at a hearing Tuesday evening. Board policies state an employee can be fired for pushing, pulling, grabbing or otherwise inappropriately touching students, among other potential infractions.

“I think any time you have an interaction involving a kid that steps over the boundaries, you have to take that serious,” board member Mark Mann said after the hearing. “It’s different if it’s with an adult, but when it’s a kid you have to hold people to the line.”

Mark Mann represents District 4 in Oklahoma City Public Schools on the district

Neither Gainor nor a representative attended the hearing to present a case on his behalf. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

Gainor, through his daughter, refused representation from the Oklahoma City AFT, the collective bargaining union for OKCPS teachers, President Torie Luster Pennington said.

He was in his third year teaching in OKCPS and had not yet reached tenure.

An investigation of Gainor’s classroom found the teacher also left confidential student records in open view, even though the school had offered to provide a lockable cabinet, documents state.

Termination hearings are rare in the Oklahoma City district. One hasn’t occurred since November 2021 when the board voted to fire six teachers, two from Webster Middle School, who refused to comply with a district requirement that employees wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OKCPS teacher exhibited ‘aggressive behavior’ toward student, district says

Gainor’s altercation on Feb. 16 began with him lying to the 11 year old’s parents about his classroom behavior, district officials said.

The school’s assistant principal had walked with the student to Gainor’s classroom. The student had been upset, so she remained in the room to ensure he transitioned calmly into his classwork, records state.

The boy began kicking loose floor tiles, dislodging them further, and Gainor immediately called the student’s parents. The student “jostled around for a bit” before sitting down to do his assignment, the assistant principal reported.

Oklahoma City Public Schools

Documents allege the teacher proceeded to tell the child’s parents the boy was throwing furniture, though the assistant principal observed that wasn’t true. The child became upset and started kicking desks, and it was then that Gainor reportedly held the boy to the floor, the assistant principal reported.

OKCPS placed Gainor on administrative leave pending investigation and, on April 13, the school principal recommended the teacher’s employment be terminated.

The board fired Gainor on grounds of physical abuse to a child, willful neglect of duty, and violation of board policies and district regulations.

“Mr. Gainor’s aggressive behavior and lack of judgment has placed students at risk of injury,” school district attorney Deisy Escalera said during the hearing.

Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at nmartinez-keel@oklahoman.com or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.

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