Elementary teacher fighting for her job 8 years after comments about a clown suit and guns

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Diane Baumann — who told staffers at South Grade Elementary in 2014 that she was stressed and "will be sitting in a tower in a clown suit with a gun" — will soon appear before an administrative judge to contest her dismissal by the court school board.
Diane Baumann, a veteran teacher from Palm Beach County, has faced eyebrow-raising allegations for years. Now the 52-year-old is fighting for her job.
Baumann - who told her colleagues at South Grade Elementary in 2014 that she was stressed and "would sit in a clown suit with a gun on top of a tower" - will soon appear before an administrative judge to challenge the school district's recent attempt to evict her .
The school district has investigated Baumann at least six times in eight years, with the latest questions surfacing in February, according to a Palm Beach Post review of more than 1,000 pages of public documents.
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Most recently lecturer at K.E. Cunningham/Canal Point Elementary in the Glades, the longtime teacher is now accused of telling a student "F*** you" and threatening to stick a pencil up another student's nose.
A third student said in a written statement that Baumann told him to "jump off a cliff."
Baumann, who denied the recent allegations, also faced repeated questions at Diamond View Elementary School in Greenacres between 2019 and 2021. Principals had accused her of keeping vague lesson plans, flouting COVID-19 guidelines and not keeping accurate student records.
Superintendent Mike Burke recommended Baumann's dismissal in June after the last inquest, and the school board approved her dismissal a month later. Baumann then filed a challenge with the Department of Administrative Hearings in August.
A two-day hearing is scheduled for February 8-9 in West Palm Beach.
According to her letter of resignation, Baumann will remain on an unpaid suspension during the appeals process. Her attorney, Mark Wilensky, did not respond to a request for comment.
Baumann's anger began in 2014 with gun comments
Baumann began teaching at West Riviera Elementary in 1998 and has received positive reviews for years.
It appears she avoided trouble until the 2014 incident at South Grade Elementary in Lake Worth Beach.
Along with remarking about a clown suit and a gun, she named "five people who worked at the school who would shoot her if she brought a gun to the school," according to a police report.
The teacher later told police she was joking, and she told school district leaders that her clown comment was in reference to an episode of the TV sitcom "Roseanne."
The Post has since confirmed that actress Roseanne Barr says in Season 6 Episode 5, "They're going to shoot people in a clown suit from a tower."
Several employees said in police interviews that Baumann was known for speaking out about guns and wanting to hurt people. But most of these colleagues also vouched for the concerned teacher. She was struggling with struggles in her personal life, they said, and she felt overwhelmed and unsupported at school.
"She seems to get very frustrated at times when dealing with her classroom challenges," a colleague said in her statement to police. “Diane doesn't have a mean bone in her body. Diane likes to talk to people. She would never harm another person.”
Police considered the gun scare an administrative matter, and the school district suspended Baumann for 10 days without pay. Around the same time, the Florida Department of Education conducted its own review and said, "Further action by this office is not warranted."
The teacher previously avoided dismissal with the help of the union
But in August 2021, after Baumann repeatedly raised questions about her behavior and the quality of her work at Diamond View Elementary, the superintendent attempted to fire her.
The school board was ready to vote on Baumann's resignation about two weeks later. On the day of this meeting, the union president intervened.
"I think most of you can attest that in my 5 years as CTA President, I have rarely, if ever, communicated about employee terminations," Justin Katz said in an email to board members. "But this one is suspicious and deserves a review to protect yourself from possible wrongful termination."
The district launched another investigation into Baumann without informing them of the allegations, he said, calling it a "fish expedition." He also said the superintendent immediately moved to firing the teacher rather than following "progressive disciplining practices," which typically begin with a verbal reprimand before escalating to a written reprimand, unpaid suspension, and then termination.
"This email is not a defense of the employee on my behalf because, as I said, I only know so much about the situation," Katz said at the time.
"But the little I know leads me to believe that the board had better play it safe as there are a number of suspicious acts that led to this termination request," he continued.
Burke then reversed his decision before the school board could vote.
School district says Baumann repeatedly warned of gunfire
After the new allegations surfaced at Canal Point Elementary earlier this year, district attorneys have been working to justify Baumann's termination.
A filing with the Department of Administrative Hearings said Baumann had received numerous warnings in the past, including the 10-day unpaid suspension for her gun comments in 2014. She also received at least two written reprimands in 2020 for disobedience and omission complete professional responsibility.
And in 2021, principal Derrick Hibler held two meetings with Baumann, once after she "allegedly threatened to physically harm a student," and again because she was "talking loudly and confronting students in the afternoons," according to the school district.
Baumann will now have an opportunity to present evidence at the two-day hearing in early 2023 and fight against her dismissal.
Giuseppe Sabella is an education reporter for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at gsabella@pbpost.com. Support our journalism and subscribe today.
This article originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach County teachers fire appeal years after clown/gun joke

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