Teacher Fair Dismissal Act Victory

posted Apr 6, 2012, 10:59 AM by Gerry Schulze   [ updated Apr 10, 2012, 11:52 AM ]
Teacher Fair Dismissal Act Victory

4/6/2012

We have a favorable result in the case of Bismarck School District v. Sims, 2012 Ark. App. 239.  We represented a school counselor who was wrongfully discharged from his position.    Sims was dismissed based on allegations that he had failed to assure that all students had enough credits to graduate.  Sims appealed his dismissal to the Bismarck School District, which upheld the decision to discharge him.  Sims then challenged the dismissal in Circuit Court under the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.

A trial was held on Sims’s appeal on December 9, 2010.  Subsequent to the trial, Circuit Judge John Cole called for briefs by the attorneys for Mr. Sims and for the district.  After the briefing was complete, Judge Cole issued a memorandum opinion and entered judgment in favor of Sims.
 
Judge Cole found that the discharge of Sims was in violation of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act of 1983.  Before 2008, the Arkansas Department of Education required that students have three math credits in order to graduate.  The Department of Education increased the requirements for graduation to four for students who would graduate in 2009.  Notice of the change was sent to the superintendent of the school district and the principal, but it was not provided to Sims.  The Judge noted that Sims had followed the official Student Handbook which had been approved by the School Board.  Sims acted in reliance on the Student Handbook, as he was required to do.  There was no evidence of just and reasonable cause for Mr. Sims to be discharged.  The discharge was arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by substantial evidence.  The Court, therefore, found that the discharge violated Arkansas law.

The Court awarded Sims a total of $44,377.03 in damages.  The court ruled that reinstatement was not appropriate because of the length of time that had passed between the discharge and the conclusion of the legal proceedings.
The school district appealed the case to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals upheld Judge Cole's decision.  The Court of Appeals noted that:

While the District goes to great lengths to establish that Sims bore all of the responsibility for ensuring that students obtained the required credits to graduate and that the problems that occurred in 2007–2008 and 2008–2009 were entirely Sims’s fault, the facts do not support this assertion. Moreover, the trial court obviously found Sims’s testimony credible, and we do not disturb credibility findings on appeal. Kasinger, supra. Further, with regard to the accuracy of the 2008–2009 student handbook, Hopkins admitted that there was “a breakdown” in a review process in which Sims was not involved. Further, the contents of the 2008–2009 student handbook, having been adopted more recently than board policy, controlled over the correct information found in the District’s policy book. Accordingly, even if Sims had consulted the District’s policies, the incorrect information found in the 2008–2009 student handbook was the final authority. It is neither just nor reasonable to hold Sims to a standard far higher than that of “the professional educator charged with operating the school and for the School Board, elected officials charged with the ultimate responsibility for the District.” Under these facts, we cannot say that the trial court clearly erred in finding that Sims’s nonrenewal was in violation of the Act.

Id. p. 11.

There was also an issue involving the District's failure to comply with the requirement of the Act that school districts must provide employees with regular evaluations.  The Court of Appeals noted that the district failed to comply with the law.

Update, 4/10/2012

This case was covered in the Malvern Daily Record.  I'm glad we got some notice.
 
 
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Gerry Schulze,
Apr 6, 2012, 10:59 AM
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