Monday, November 10, 2014

Termination of an Ohio Teacher’s Tenured Employment Requires “Good and Just Cause”

According to Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code Section 3319.16), a tenured teacher has the right to a hearing before a school board determines whether there is “good and just cause” to terminate that teacher’s employment contract.

Q:       What conduct constitutes “good and just cause” for a tenured teacher’s employment contract to be terminated?
A:        The Supreme Court of Ohio addressed that question in a case that involved the Mount Vernon City School Board’s termination of a tenured teacher’s employment contract. In Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, the teacher who brought the lawsuit argued that the school board did not have “good and just cause” to terminate his employment contract as is required by Ohio law.
            In its decision, the Supreme Court found that “good and just cause” includes “insubordination” by a teacher. The Court further defined “insubordination” as the willful disobedience of, or refusal to obey, a reasonable and valid rule or regulation of the school board.

Q:       Must a school board inform a tenured teacher that the school board intends to consider terminating the teacher’s employment contract?
A:        Ohio law requires a school board to provide written notice to the teacher. The notice must state that the board intends to consider terminating the teacher’s employment contract, and provide the specific reason(s) for termination. For example, if insubordination is the reason for termination, then the school board’s written notice must state the specific instances when the teacher willfully disobeyed or refused to obey a school board rule.

Q:       Can the teacher contest the charges in the written notice?
A:        The teacher has ten days after receiving the written notice to demand a hearing. The teacher also has the right to demand that the hearing be conducted by an impartial hearing referee. The person serving as the hearing referee may not be a member of the school board, an employee of the school or the spouse of a person employed by the school. The Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction gives the teacher and the school board a list of three individuals qualified to serve as a hearing referee. If the teacher and the school board cannot agree on one of those three individuals, then the Superintendent appoints one of them to serve as referee.

Q:       What are the teacher’s rights at this hearing?
A:        Both the teacher and the school board have the right to be present during the hearing and to have attorney representation at the hearing. Evidence presented at the hearing is confined to the reasons for termination stated in the school board’s written notice to the teacher. The teacher and the school board may each introduce and examine their own witnesses and may cross-examine the other party’s witnesses. Both the board and the teacher may also submit documents into evidence. A complete stenographic record of this hearing is required. It is typically prepared by a court reporter.

Q:       What does the hearing referee do?
A:        After hearing all the evidence, including witness testimony, the hearing referee must prepare and submit a “report and recommendation” to the school board. The report includes the referee’s findings of fact, conclusions of law and the referee’s recommendation to the school board. The referee determines whether facts show that the teacher engaged in the acts as the school board’s letter charged and whether those facts constituted good and just cause for termination. Then, the referee recommends either termination or continuation of the teacher’s contract. The referee must send this report and recommendation to the school board within ten days after the hearing.

Q:       Must the school board accept the referee’s report and recommendation?    
A:        If the referee’s findings are supported by the evidence in the hearing record, the school board must accept the referee’s findings of fact. Courts have held that a school board has the discretion to decide whether to accept or reject a referee’s recommendation, but the board’s decision cannot be contrary to law. For example, if a referee recommends that the employment contract should not be terminated because the findings of fact clearly did not constitute good and just cause, and if the record of the hearing supports the referee’s findings of fact, then a school board’s decision to ignore the referee’s recommendation and terminate the tenured teacher’s employment contract would be contrary to Ohio law. 

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Stow attorney Ronald E. Alexander. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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