Elaine Brown was back in her second-grade classroom teaching Tuesday after two months of paid administrative leave from Oakhurst Elementary School, pending an investigation into whether she followed protocol during incidents of alleged student bullying at the school.
"I'm very happy, ecstatic," Brown said. "I've met a lot of wonderful people, and it's been a great journey, although not always easy. The next step is to get back to the classroom and be the best teacher I can to those kids to get them to third grade."
During her administrative leave, Brown contacted the media and gained national attention when she appeared on "Good Morning America," CNN with Anderson Cooper and "Dr. Phil." She also was interviewed by Ray Appleton and Chris Daniel on Fresno's KMJ radio station and by The Fresno Bee.
Brown was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 29 after she alerted parents and authorities about the district's failure to take seriously her complaints about a 7-year-old student. She described the boy's behavior toward classmates as physical and mental abuse, including threats to bring a gun to school.
The alleged bully was moved to another classroom.
Brown said support from parents throughout her time away from the classroom has been "unbelievable" and that even parents of former students have called to offer support.
"This community is wonderful and very closely tied," she said.
Parent Terry Nevins said he is happy Brown has returned to the classroom, teaching his 7-year-old daughter. When his daughter heard the news, he said, she began jumping up and down because she was so happy.
"I think that's absolutely wonderful," he said. "I'm very excited that she's going back to teach because she's an excellent teacher and a very nice lady and an asset to the school. I'm very hopeful that (the) administration, staff and school board will take bullying seriously and act on any reported cases immediately."
Brown said she has mixed feelings about returning to the school but that she believes in reconciliation and forgiveness.
"I plan on going back into that school with the love I gave it and maybe more," she said. "I know our community is going through a very hard time. In the last three weeks our school has lost three little girls, and my hope is to go back and be part of the healing process." Brown was referring to Jayden and Alexis Montoya who died from carbon monoxide poisoning and Marijane Lewis who was allegedly killed by her mother.
Terri Worthington Pack, parent of one of Brown's students, traveled with Brown to New York to participate on the "Good Morning, America" show and speak about the bullying incidents at Oakhurst Elementary.
"I think going to 'Good Morning, America' let everyone know that we aren't going to take this lying down," Pack said. "Bullying is a serious issue, and Miss Brown was at no fault whatsoever and should never have been put on administrative leave. I'm very excited that she's back at school. To me, there was no other outcome because how could you let someone go when they've done nothing wrong?"
Pack's son, Kincaide, 8, said Brown is always nice to him and makes him want to learn. Pack said she used to have to "practically bribe" her son to go to after-school tutoring but that when Brown began offering free tutoring after school, Kincaide begged to be tutored by her.
"That's why I've been fighting for her, because my son's never asked for more education from anyone before," Pack said.
Brown said she received a call Jan. 27 -- after the school investigation was complete -- from Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District Superintendent Glenn Reid, who told her to "come back to work."
During the investigation, investigator Bill Leist, hired by the school district's attorney, interviewed Brown and several parents and school staff members involved in the allegations.
Reid said it was his determination, after talking with Leist, that Brown should be allowed to come back to work.
"We feel the Oakhurst community, Oakhurst Elementary School students, staff, and parents, have been through a great deal over the past four weeks," Reid said. "It is time to move forward and learn from those experiences in a positive way. The conclusions of the investigator were that while there were very good procedures in place to deal with child behavior issues, there certainly exists improvement opportunities for everyone involved to more consistently follow those procedures for the benefit of the children."
Brown said she hopes the outcome of the two-month ordeal will be positive for students.
"My biggest message is: 'Let's not let bullies and victims fall through cracks, and get them the help they need and listen to them when they come forward.' "
Reid said the district will revisit its bullying and harassment policies and practices to ensure that everyone understands how best to handle student behavior issues. He said the district also will continue its bullying-prevention education for students, staff, and parents.
"There is no question all schools in our nation are seeing difficult behavior issues showing up in younger students, and we want to be prepared to help," Reid said.