RED BANK, Tennessee(WDEF) - The teacher who lost her job after taking a sick student to a doctor broke her silence and spoke exclusively to WDEF.
Jennifer Mitts, 43, of Hixson taught at Red Bank High School for 8 years. She has been described as a popular English teacher who at one point won WDEF's Golden Apple Award.
But on March 14th, the popular teacher said she faced one of the toughest days of her life. It was the day she was called into office where she was met by Principal Justin Robertson and Ava Warren from the human resource department.
"They told me that I had been warned not to take any students to the doctor because I did the same thing last year," Mitts said.
Mitts said she told them that she did remember the warning from school administrators but also said she felt this time it was different because the student was 20-years old and legally an adult.
"First of all, people have been asking why you have a 20-year old student in your class. She is from a another country and she started school late. Her parents are not in the country. She wants a high school diploma," Mitts said.
Mitts said they told her she should not have taken the student because it's a liability issue.
"They said you realize what this means don't you and I asked what. They said you have a choice," she said.
Mitts went on to say they asked her if she knew what that choice was. She said her reply was resign or be fired.
"They said correct. Then they asked me what it's going to be. They told me that before I made up my mind, if I'm fired, I'll never work as a teacher ever again. They also said if I resign I could teach in other counties but not Hamilton County and still be able to salvage my teaching career," said the former teacher.
She said she was forced to resign.
"Warren tore off a piece of legal paper from her pad then handed it to me and dictated what to write," Mitts said.
Mitts said at that moment, she was shocked to know she was being forced out of her job because she took an adult student to a doctor to receive treatment for a lung infection.
"I actually wasn't even going to be the one to take her to the doctor. Another teacher told me about the situation and said the school nurse think she has pneumonia and I think we need to take her to the doctor." Mitts said.
Mitt's said she told the other teacher that she didn't mind doing it. She eventually took the student to the doctor and even paid the medial bill with her own money.
"I didn't mind paying for it. It was less than $100. I don't have any kids so I spend my money on my students," she said.
Mitts said she was caught in a sticky situation because she cared about the student enough to make sure the young woman received proper medical attention. But at the same time, she acknowledged that she would still be employed had she not volunteered to take the student to the doctor.
Since she became unemployed, an online petition called Bring Mitts Back
has gathered more than 1000 signatures. It's an effort to convince the Hamilton County School District to allow Mitts to resume her career.
"There are teachers who have come to me privately who said wow, I really can't believe what's happening to you but I can't sign your petition because if they see my name on there I'm next,"Mitts said.
WDEF spoke to Hamilton County assistant superintendent of human resources, Stacy Stewart. Stewart said there was never an intention of firing Mitts nor forcing her to resign. According to Stewart, administrators were only going to punish Mitts with a suspension.
"Instead of taking the suspension, she opted to resign and we allowed her to do so. She has mentioned being forced to waive her rights to due process and that's incorrect," Stewart said.
"I was not offered a suspension. That is a total lie. Fabrication," Mitts said.
Another strike against Mitts was in her personnel file. She has received several warnings, reprimands and even a 5-day suspension for other incidents that raised administrative red flags. There was even a letter from a school administrator explaining how her good intentions were putting the district in jeopardy of a potential lawsuit.
"Ms. Mitts was officially warned in writing back in January of 2013 not to take students from campus in her car without permission," Stewart said.
Stewart went on to further explain the legal complications of the situation.
"It's a liability issue. It's an issue of insubordination after doing something you were officially warned not to do and doing it again. It's an issue of neglect of duty because the classroom was left unattended. There's several issues," Stewart said.
WDEF asked Stewart if administrators considered the fact that Ms. Mitts is a Golden Apple Award recipient as well as a very popular and well liked teacher with lots of public support.
"No one from the district questions her caring attitude or her ability as a teacher. The issue here is poor professional judgement and that was taken into consideration," Stewart said.
Mitts is currently looking for employment at schools in other counties.
"Some school systems will probably say that's the type of teacher we want and need in our school; someone who cares and other may not so we'll just see," She said.
As for the petition to get her job back in Hamilton County, Mitts said she would be open to teaching at another school but not Red Bank High School for fear of being in a hostile environment.
WDEF has reached out the Red Bank Principal Justin Robertson but our phone calls were not returned.