The mediators in the termination hearing of Dr. Robert “Doc” Wollkind received the trial briefs and replies prepared by the attorneys from both parties on June 20 and will now have 75 days to make a recommendation to the Board of Education (BOE) as to whether Wollkind should remain in his position, teaching math at Brookfield High School (BHS).
after making two inappropriate comments to students on November 18, the latest of in his 32-year tenure at BHS.
According to the briefs prepared by Wollkind’s legal team, led by attorney Randy DiBella, in order for the three-member panel to recommend the teacher’s termination, the school district must prove that Wollkind was “inefficient and incompetent… insubordinate against reasonable rules of the Board of Education… [or] should be dismissed for other due and sufficient cause.”
During four hearings over the course of seven weeks, school district attorney Patrick McHale as such grounds for dismissal.
DiBella, on the other hand, attempted to paint a picture of a beloved and effective teacher, often misunderstood due to the complications of Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.
“All of the issues, incidents and episodes must, as a matter of reason, be viewed through the lens of what Asperger’s is and its effect on human interaction,” Wollkind’s attorneys write. “His condition affects Dr. Wollkind’s social functioning and can cause unfiltered speech and social awkwardness.”
“The manifestation of these traits, rather than malevolent, willful intent, explains a great deal,” the defense asserts.
“It would be expected that a modicum of assistance would have been forthcoming from the administration, at least since , the chief medical officer of Four Winds Hospital in Cross River, NY. “Nevertheless, despite Dr. Wollkind’s traits and actions being a virtual living textbook on Asperger’s, the administration overlays a strict liability standard over an inarticulable conduct standard and assigns a malevolent intent to his action when malice has not been proved.”
“Dr. Wollkind’s own therapist confirmed that Dr. Wollkind understood what was expected of him and the consequences of his failure to address his behavior,” the district counters in their reply brief.
“As discussed in Brookfield’s Brief, Dr. Wollkind admitted that he is aware of and understands the requirements of Brookfield’s rules governing teacher conduct towards students, including not using insults or sarcasm,” the reply states, adding later that “ is a prohibited practice under Brookfield’s rules.”
“Dr. Wollkind has relied on his diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder by Dr. Bauman as the reason for his inappropriate behavior.”
According to the defense, recognition that Asperger’s is the root cause of miscommunication, not “malicious intent,” has helped both Wollkind and the students understand and cope with the teacher’s disorder.
“In the eight years immediately following Dr. Wollkind’s Asperger’s diagnosis up to November 2010, he has endeavored to inform his students of his condition and there has been no additional discipline,” Wollkind’s attorney’s write.
While there has been no formal discipline on Wollkind’s record since his diagnosis, math department head Ed Bednarik “has continually counseled Dr. Wollkind about his demeaning behavior towards students,” according to the district’s reply, which cites a meeting between department head and teacher in 2007 and a two-day meeting that also included BHS Principal Dr. Bryan Luizzi in 2009 “to address complaints.”
The reply brief also addresses the assertion that notifying the students of Wollkind’s disorder at the beginning of each semester will prevent any misunderstandings.
“While some students may have adapted to his inappropriate behavior, the record amply demonstrates that not all students have done so nor are they required to do so,” according to the school district’s policies and the Connecticut Code of Professional Responsibility for Education, the reply states.
DiBella and Wollkind’s attorneys argued that the incidents prior to the 2002 diagnosis were previously dealt with and should not weigh against the teacher.
“The administration seeks to take a situation that occurred in 2010 with Student 21 and use it as the hook to resurrect decades of stale matters to justify dispensing of a 68-year-old, 32-year teaching veteran afflicted with a diagnosed autism disorder,” the defense concludes at the end of their reply brief. “[Superintendent Anthony] Bivona has chosen to ignore any double punishment exposure by seeking the ultimate penalty for matters handled and disposed of long ago by other administrations.”
“Because of the similarity of these incidents,” the district concludes, “regardless of when they occurred, they should all be considered in determining whether Dr. Wollkind’s employment contract should be terminated.”
“Indeed, the record clearly establishes that Dr. Wollkind has continued to engage in this pattern of conduct toward students despite being counseled, reprimanded, placed on probationary status or suspended by at least 11 different school administrators.”
The impartial tribunal now has 75 days (August 29) to review the briefs, replies and exhibits, as well as their own memory of the testimony, and submit a recommendation to the BOE. Once they receive the panel’s determination, board members will review it and make their final decision on Wollkind’s future at BHS within 15 days.