A teacher at Bailey Middle School in West Haven who was let go after pulling a chair out from under a student is apologizing, saying he loved teaching and never intended for things to get out of hand.
Police started investigating after receiving cellphone video that apparently showed eighth-grade science teacher David Pfaff, 31, of Cheshire, yank a chair out from underneath a middle school student. Pfaff was terminated, but no charges have been filed.
He said the incident unfolded after he asked a student with behavioral problems to move several times so others could use the table where he was sitting. Instead of moving, the student refused to get up and used inappropriate language, according to Pfaff.
“He used very, very, very inappropriate language toward me and toward other students," Pfaff explained.
At that point, Pfaff said he asked the student one more time to "please move." When the student refused, Pfaff said he was faced with three options — to let it go, call security or intervene.
"I felt like calling security, getting the administration involved — the school administration involved — and having him sent to in-school suspension, or whatever discipline measure they said was necessary, I felt that was overkill," Pfaff said.
Instead, Pfaff said he decided to use a technique he’d seen other teachers use in similar situations: move the student's chair to get him to stand so the teacher could escort him to another area of the room.
"I felt that I needed to intervene in some way that I had not previously done," Pfaff said.
When he did, the student fell to the ground. Pfaff said that wasn't the intent and said he would never harm a student. He explained that teachers often have to make split-second decisions.
"I looked at him and I looked at the chair. I know you are not supposed to touch a student. You don’t do that," Pfaff said. "I never meant for that to happen — never."
The student didn't complain of any pain but became violent when he stood up, knocking over chairs and throwing things, Pfaff said, forcing the teacher to call security.
Security personnel removed the student from the classroom, Pfaff said. Pfaff was then escorted to his car and told he was being put on home leave during the investigation.
Pfaff, who has about a year of teaching experience and previously served as a substitute teacher in Waterbury, had been teaching in West Haven for just three months.
West Haven Supt. Neil Cavallaro sent Pfaff a letter Nov. 5 stating, "I have concluded that it is in the best interest of the district to separate employment prior to the completion of your ninety day (90) probationary period."
Cavallaro explained the school's response in a statement.
"As soon as we were notified last week of the incident in question, we immediately contacted the appropriate authorities and terminated the teacher, who was still on the probationary period that all new teachers are on when they are hired in our district," Cavallaro said.
When asked if he went too far, he said, "It’s kind of difficult to judge in the moment whether you’re going too far, whether or not you aren’t," but "if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have taken the same course of action."
Pfaff said he has spoken with fellow teachers and administrators about what transpired in hopes of learning from it.
"I loved my job. Did it come with challenges? Yeah, it did," Pfaff admitted. "A good teacher always questions everything they do and they always try to improve upon (it) for next time."
School officials declined to comment further, citing a personnel matter and ongoing investigation. West Haven police would not release the cellphone video since it's part of their investigation.
Pfaff said he doesn't have all the protections of the teachers' union and is looking to find a lawyer.
"I feel bad. I feel really, really bad about everything that has happened," he said.