Vol. 20-005, February 24, 2020

The Gist
Based on records provided by the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) in 2019, thirteen (13) certificated employee termination cases resulted in a decision from a commission on professional competence. In all but two (2) cases, the school district prevailed. 

In 2019, school districts regularly pursued the immediate suspension certificated employees. Thirty-nine (39) employees challenged the school district’s action. OAH granted twenty-one (21) motions for immediate reversal of suspension (“MIRS”) filed by employees in 2019, resulting in the employees returning to paid status pending the completion of the discipline process.

The Details
Dismissal Hearings
In 2019, when school districts sought the termination of certificated employees, the school district generally brought charges against the employee based on several causes for dismissal under the Education Code. In fact, only one school district brough a dismissal action against a certificated employee alleging only one cause for dismissal (persistent violation of a state or district rule/regulation). The school district prevailed in that action.

In the two cases where the school district was unsuccessful in achieving the termination of the employee, the CPC found the district was unable to substantiate the charges under the preponderance of evidence standard. In one case, the CPC relied heavily on an expert witness’s testimony which undermined the district’s investigation and student testimony. (See, CPC Blog Vol. 20-003. Appeal Pending.) In the other case, the district failed to demonstrate that the school psychologist’s shortcomings were grounds for dismissal as opposed to the district’s failure to accommodate her disability. (See, CPC Blog Vol. 20-002.)

Motions for Immediate Reversal of Suspension
In 2019, thirty-nine (39) employees challenged their immediate suspensions. In all cases where the employee was successful in reversing the immediate suspension, OAH noted that the school district failed to adequately plead the allegation of “immoral conduct” or “willful refusal to perform regular assignments without reasonable cause.”

Although we do not know the details, the fact OAH decided more MIRS than dismissal cases demonstrates that a significant number of cases settled before hearing after the decision on the MIRS.

Practical Pointers
School district administrators should be encouraged by the success rate of their colleagues in dismissal hearings in 2019. Dedication to the progressive discipline process, documentation of misconduct and poor performance, and adequate preparation of witnesses for hearing can all serve as helpful components in the release of certificated employees.

School districts should work closely with legal counsel when preparing charges to ensure that when pursuing the immediate suspension of an employee, sufficient facts are alleged to state a claim of “immoral conduct” or “willful refusal to perform regular assignments without reasonable cause.”