Banned teacher fighting to get license back

Posted at: 01/23/2014 10:42 PM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Cell phone video of a Santa Fe High School auto shop student inside a cage spread like wildfire in 2011.

His teacher was accused of putting a student inside the cage next to chemicals, and the evidence was recorded by another student.

It seems cut-and-dry. But former teacher Abigail Fox says it is far from it.

She was never charged with a crime, but she did lose her license to teach in New Mexico.

Three years later she says she's still waiting to get it back.

"To thousands of children that I've taught, and their parents, Ms. Fox is not that person," Fox said in an exclusive interview with KOB Eyewitness News 4.

Fox says she feels trapped.

"Teaching children who only have the choice of public school education is my mission," she said.

Her mission ended in 2011 when cell phone video of the cage incident went viral -- a student accused Fox of putting him in a cage that housed chemicals in her auto shop classroom.

"I just orchestrated a classroom dramatization," she said.

Fox says it was a safety demonstration, discussed beforehand.

"Everyone was on board," she said.

She says she was the one who asked for someone to film the exercise for future classes.

But she says she didn't shut the student inside the cage against his will.

"Why would I do that, and empower someone to tape it?" she said.

The student reported Fox. She says he was trying to avoid getting in trouble for something else.

Her job was collateral damage.

"Children are losing because I'm not in the classroom," she said. "That may sound arrogant, but I firmly believe it."

Fox went on leave for months, and eventually resigned.

"Charges were never filed, I was never charged with anything," said Fox. "The district attorney considered it ridiculous."

She's not a criminal, but the Public Education Department took her teaching license.

"This is more than three years since this incident has happened, and I still don't have my licenses back," she said. 

Fox says she doesn't think it had much to do with the incident.

"I was very outspoken, very politically active," she said. 

Fox said she has always been outspoken. Before and after the incident, she has spoken out against education reform, and even her own superintendent's contract renewal.

"I do project a knowledgeable sense of righteousness and justice, and I do think that's quite intimidating," she said.

The video, she says, was just an excuse to remove her from the education system. 

"It's really not what happened," she said of the version of events widely reported. "It's not what happened."

KOB asked PED why Ms. Fox hasn't been given her license back, and received this prompt response from department spokesman Larry Behrens Thursday:

"We can't imagine any parent would feel putting their child in a cage is acceptable behavior and that's why in this case we made the decision to revoke the license. Unfortunately, the judge did not agree. To be clear, the judge's order acknowledges that there should be some form of punishment. The district court has remanded the case back to PED and we are examining the options for the next step.

For those who have the opportunity to teach our children, the standards are much higher than simply not being charged with a crime. We will take the action that is in the best interest of our children first."