UPDATE: Natalie Bunch's attorney Will Webster sent 1819 News the following statement regarding Judge Phillip Wood upholding the Guntersville School Board's decision to terminate Bunch:
"We are disappointed but not surprised by this outcome. Based on the Students First Act, which governs teacher terminations, the ALJ had very little leeway to overturn the Board’s decision. However, Natalie and I believed we had good grounds to pursue this matter as we did, and we have no regrets.
"We still disagree with the Board’s decision, which we believe was a gross miscarriage of justice. For context, the State Department of Education reviewed the same allegations against Natalie and simply asked her to take two online classes, which she has completed, and her certificate has been cleared. We are now in the process of evaluating Natalie’s next steps, and what happens next is hers to decide. She has so far handled herself with grace and dignity through what has been a nightmarish ordeal, and I would expect nothing less from her in the days to come."
On Wednesday, Judge Phillip Wood affirmed the Guntersville City Schools Board of Education’s decision to terminate former elementary teacher Natalie Bunch for her handling of a situation where a student licked her foot on multiple occasions.
After having been prescribed medication for previously assaulting Bunch last August, the unnamed K-5 student became more "touchy-feely" toward her and, over the course of the next few weeks, licked her toes on at least three different occasions. Bunch took photos of the third incident to document the behavior.
Once Guntersville Elementary School Principal John Doyle learned of the photos and the licking, he launched an investigation, resulting in Bunch's suspension and eventual termination in December 2022.
Last Friday, Bunch appealed to get her job back, claiming the school board’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” since it violated her right to due process and was biased in how it punished her and not others who knew of the issues with the student.
Attorney for the school board Taylor Brooks argued that given the testimony and evidence presented at the initial hearings last fall, many of which contradicted Bunch’s account, the board members could reasonably reach their decision to terminate.
Judge Wood agreed.
“After consideration of the record, the applicable case law, and the arguments of counsel, the Hearing Officer finds that Natalie Bunch's right to due process was not violated, and the decision of the Board was not arbitrary or capricious,” Wood’s ruling read. “Accordingly, the Hearing Officer hereby upholds and affirms the decision of the Guntersville City Board of Education.”
The school board issued the following statement after Wood issued his ruling:
“Earlier today, Judge Wood issued a ruling on the termination appeal of Mrs. Natalie Bunch. In his ruling, he affirmed the termination decision previously made by the Superintendent and approved by the Board. The Superintendent and Board appreciate Judge Woods' thorough review and careful consideration of the facts, the legal briefs, and the oral arguments presented by both parties.
“We understand that this has been an extremely difficult time for many in our school system and our community. While the Superintendent and the Board never desire to terminate any employee, our duty to ensure the best for our students necessitates that such action be taken. In this particular instance, the Superintendent and Board firmly believe that, while this decision was difficult, it was made in the best interest of students — which will always be our top priority.
“The Superintendent and Board continue to wish Mrs. Bunch and her family well in her future endeavors. The Board’s hope is that the school system and community can turn its resources and attention towards our system’s needs and goals to build a better future for our students and our community.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated for clarity and to include comments from Natalie Bunch's lawyer, Will Webster.
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