Judge denies teacher's request for reinstatement

Saturday, April 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A Tulsa County judge rejected a teacher's request for reinstatement Friday after he was fired for not promptly surrendering videotapes made in the girls' locker room.

Dennis Curtis alleged that he was fired in retaliation for helping to uncover the videotapes, which depicted girls in various stages of undress. Curtis feared telling school officials about the tapes because the man accused of making them is the son of district superintendent Harry Red Eagle Sr., Curtis' attorney, Phyllis Walta, said.

For Curtis, ``the taping involved wrongdoing serious enough to implicate him and perhaps end his career, but not serious enough to require reporting to the authorities,'' District Judge Jane Wiseman determined.

``This was not unintentional concealment but a violation of the teacher's moral duty to protect students from further harm,'' Wiseman wrote.

The tapes allegedly were made by Harry Red Eagle Jr., who was then a Skiatook coach. Red Eagle resigned after the tapes were revealed. He faces criminal charges in Osage County.

Curtis lost his job in November after Tulsa television station, KOTV, aired a portion of a videotape. The school district cited grounds of incompetence, willful neglect of duty and moral turpitude.

Based on the Teacher Due Process Act, Wiseman on Tuesday threw out incompetence and willful neglect of duty as a basis to fire Curtis.

The act states that a career teacher must get a letter of admonishment before being dismissed for those reasons. Curtis, who taught at Skiatook for 13 years, received no such letter. Moral turpitude was the only ground remaining.

Curtis ``believed Noonie Red Eagle made the tapes and that this conduct was wrong,'' Wiseman said.

Curtis ``unfortunately hid the tapes until he could decide what to do, apparently more out of concern for his own possible implication or effect on his career due to the influence of Noonie Red Eagle's father than concern for the welfare of the students involved,'' the judge ruled.

Attorney John Priddy, representing the Skiatook district, maintained that any adult should know that withholding tapes that sexually exploit children is wrong.

A teacher who ``obtained evidence of another teacher/coach's wrongful conduct of this kind involving students,'' and then ``takes affirmative steps to hide this evidence and not report its existence for several months, is guilty of conduct constituting moral turpitude,'' Wiseman decided Friday.

Curtis reportedly found out about the tapes while living with Red Eagle, and Curtis said he gave the tapes to his ex-wife until he could decide what to do with them. She kept them for months before giving them back to Curtis, who turned them over to an assistant principal.

Curtis can appeal the district court decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.