Sample Education Law Case

Conclusions of Law
  1. Respondent ____ sought revocation of Petitioner’s teaching certificate pursuant to Section 168.071.1(5) RSMo. [R.49-50, Exhibit L ] That section states:

    The state board of education may refuse to issue or renew a certificate, or may, upon hearing, discipline the holder of a certificate of license to teach for the following reasons:

    (5) If charges are filed by the local board of education, based upon the annulling of a written contract with the local board of education, for reasons other than election to the general assembly, without the consent of the majority of the members of the board that is a party to the contract.

  2. In its complaint to the Board, Respondent _____ incorrectly claimed that the local board “did not accept the resignation unless the teacher met all criteria of ______ board policy.” [R.49-50, Exhibit L ]
  3. In fact, the Board accepted Respondent’s resignation:

    Motion by _______ to accept the resignation of certified personnel ________Gifted English, subject to board policy and contingent upon finding a suitable replacement. ______ seconded. Motion carried with 6 voting yes and _____ voting no.
    [R.40-42, Exhibit F ]

  4. Confronted with this discrepancy at the hearing, Respondent ____, through Dr. ______, claimed that the Board’s acceptance “subject to board policy and contingent upon finding a suitable replacement” is somehow equivalent to a denial of the resignation unless the liquidated damages fee was tendered. Dr. ______ admitted that the Board had not made such authorization, but that rather she had made the representation to Petitioner, “under advice from our counsel.” [R.18 Tr.39 line 23 – Tr.41 line 13]
  5. Respondent has offered no legal authority for this position, and the hearing officer never addressed this discrepancy. [R.18 Tr.39 line 23 – Tr.41 line 13; R.4-7]
  6. Dr_____ testified that a replacement was found for Petitioner’s teaching position. She complained that the replacement had to undergo last-minute training, but admitted that the replacement’s salary was less than what Petitioner would have been paid. [R.27 Tr.77 lines 16-25]
  7. Thus, Respondent ______ sole basis for seeking revocation of Petitioner’s teaching certificate is her failure to pay the liquidated damages by the date demanded by ______ administrative office – Dr. ____ and Dr. _______.
  8. Respondent ______ through Dr_____, further admitted that the real reason it sought revocation of Petitioner’s teaching certificate was “to send a message to Ms. ______and other teachers …” [R.19 Tr. 42 lines 4-12]
  9. Section 168.071, insofar as it establishes criteria for the discipline of a teaching certificate, is penal in nature, and therefore must be strictly construed. City of Charleston ex rel. Brady v. McCutcheon , 227 S.W. 736, 738 (Mo. Banc 1950); BCI Corp. v. Charlebois Const. Co. , 673 S.W.2d 774, 780 (Mo. Banc 1984).
  10. There Is No Written Contract
  11. Section 168.071.1(5) authorizes the Board of Education to discipline a teacher “based upon the annulling of a written contract with the local board of education … without the consent of the … board …”
  12. There is no factual dispute that Petitioner and Respondent _____ did not have a written contract for the school year in question. Both Dr. _____ and Dr. ________ admitted this. Thus, there can be no discipline for the annulment of a written contract.
  13. Faced with this problem for _____’s disciplinary request at the hearing, Dr. _____ opined that she believed Petitioner had a permanent contract, and that therefore a written contract was not necessary to bind Petitioner to the _____ School Board’s notice provision.
  14. This argument fails too, because the previous contract the parties had was, by statute, not a permanent, or indefinite contract. Section 168.104 defines both a “permanent teacher” as well as an “indefinite contract.” Section 168.106 further describes an “indefinite contract.” And most importantly, in this case, Section 168.108 prescribes mandatory language that must be included in every indefinite contract:
    1. Every indefinite contract shall contain the following provisions in substantially the following form: “It is hereby agreed by and between .........., the teacher, and the Board of Education of .......... School District, the employer, that the teacher, beginning on the .......... day of .........., 20..., shall serve in the employ of the Board of Education and its successors for a term of .......... months (the number of school months of the school year in the school district) for an annual compensation of $.........., to be paid to the teacher in equal installments according to local school board regulations less the contributions required by law.”

      “It is further agreed by the parties hereto that this contract shall continue in force from year to year, until modified or terminated in accordance with the provisions of sections 168.102 to 168.130, RSMo , and any amendments thereto prior to the date of this contract.”

    2. Every indefinite contract shall be made by the order of the board of education, shall be in writing and shall be signed by the permanent teacher and the president of the board of education, or a facsimile signature of the president may be affixed at his direction, and the contract shall be attested by the secretary of the board of education by signature or facsimile.
  15. Both Dr. _____ and Dr. ______ admitted that the prior year 2009-2010 contract with Petitioner did not contain this required language. [R.20 Tr. 46 lines to Tr.48 line 19; R25 Tr.67 lines 3-16; R26 Tr.71 lines 13-18]
  16. Troublingly, Mr. _______ recommendation to the State Board of Education does not even address the lack of any written contract. Instead, Mr. _______ incorrectly concluded that: “A binding contract consistent with Mo. Rev. Stat. §168.108 (Supp. 2010) existed between [Petitioner] and the _____ School District #124.” [R.6] As shown above, this is clearly wrong. Both of _____’s professional educators admitted the “indefinite contract” lacked the required statutory language. Petitioner argued this point in her suggestions filed with Mr. ______. (Respondent _____ filed no suggestions.) And as DESE’s General Counsel, Mr. _____ is well aware of the law of indefinite teacher contracts. It belies any reasonable explanation as to how an administrative hearing officer can simply ignore the clear mandate of Missouri law, confirmed by two of _____’s own witnesses, and conclude that a Section 168.108 contract existed when by the statute’s own terms it cannot.
  17. Petitioner and Respondent _____ had no written contract. There was no written contract to annul. There could be no discipline for the annulment of a written contact under Section 168.071.1(5) RSMo, because there was no written contract.
  18. Further, there could have been no alternative “indefinite contract” under Section 168.108 RSMo, because the previous 2009-2010 contract lacked the mandatory statutory language to create such a contract.
  19. The Local School Board Accepted the Resignation
  20. Even if there had been either a written contract to annul, or an indefinite contract to break, Respondent _____’s request for disciplinary action is not authorized.
  21. Section 168.071(5) RSMo authorizes the State Board of Education to discipline a teacher’s license for annulling a written contract if (1) the local school board does not consent to the annulment and if (2) the local school board requests the State Board of Education discipline the license.
  22. As shown above, Respondent _____’s local school board accepted Petitioner’s resignation. Because Section 168.071 is penal, and strictly construed, the acceptance of Petitioner’s resignation must end this dispute.
  23. Respondent _____, however, believes that the local board’s acceptance “subject to board policy” somehow bootstraps Petitioner to a disciplinary charge. Respondent’s argument is that because “board policy” included a liquidated damages provision, this is likewise bootstrapped onto the disciplinary action.
  24. This argument fails for several reasons. First, a strict construction of the penal statute ends the inquiry, as discussed above, because the board accepted the resignation. That it did so with conditions does not change the fact that the resignation was accepted . Dr. ______, who at the time was new to the _____ School District, understood the difference. Toward the end of his testimony, Dr. ______ admitted that had the _____ School Board voted not to accept Petitioner’s resignation, he would have filed to revoke her teaching certificate “immediately.” [R.28 Tr.79 line 16 – Tr.80 line 7] (The request would have still failed for reasons discussed above, but at least Dr. ______ understands that if a local board accepts a resignation, the State Board is not authorized to discipline a teacher for annulling a written contract. Section 168.071.1(5) RSMo)
  25. The argument fails for a second reason because “subject to board policy” does not equate to a disciplinary action, but rather to a possible claim for liquidated damages in a civil suit against Petitioner.
  26. Respondent _____’s school board policy established the $3,000 liquidated damages provision. [R.34-35]
  27. An argument could be made that when the local board accepted the resignation subject to the liquidated damages provision, it authorized _____ personnel to collect the money from Petitioner. Dr. ______ testified that he considered filing suit to collect money from Petitioner, but that he decided to proceed with disciplinary action first. [R.25 Tr.68 lines 8-11]
  28. Ultimately, however, this argument does not aid Respondent _____’s claim. Section 168.106 RSMo states that an indefinite contract “shall continue in effect for an indefinite period, subject only to … (2) Modification by a succeeding indefinite contract or contracts in the manner hereinafter provided …” The statue also states that such indefinite contracts are subject to “resignation of the teacher with the written consent of the school board.” As discussed above, the _____ school board accepted Petitioner’s resignation.
  29. Only after Dr. _______ determined not to first sue Petitioner for the liquidated damages did he then return to his local board, seeking their authority to seek discipline against Petitioner’s license. [R.54] While it is true that the local board subsequently authorized the filing of _____’s disciplinary request “in lieu of the liquidation damages of $3000,” that does not change the Board’s earlier decision accepting Petitioner’s resignation and thereby removing the possibility that she could be disciplined pursuant to the annulment of a written contract without local board approval. Section 168.071.1(5) RSMo.
  30. Summary
  31. (1) There was no violation or annulment of any written contract, because no such contract existed. Petitioner was not bound by an “indefinite contract” or any other contract pursuant to Section 168.108 RSMo because the prior written contract for the 2009-2010 school year lacked the required statutory language to qualify as an “indefinite contract.” (2) Even if such a contract existed, the _____ Board of Education accepted Petitioner’s resignation, removing the resignation from the possibility of discipline under Section 168.071.1(5) RSMo or any other statute.
  32. Order and Judgment
  33. The court has reviewed the petition and administrative record. Pursuant to Section 536.140 RSMo, the court sustains the Petition. The court finds that Respondent _____’s request to discipline Petitioner’s teaching license, the recommendation by DESE’s administrative hearing officer, and the decision by the State Board of Education all to be in excess of and without statutory authority. The finding by the agency that there was a binding contract consistent with Section 168.108 RSMo is unsupported by any evidence, and is likewise arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. The administrative determinations resulting in the discipline of Petitioner’s license are an abuse of discretion and must be reversed.
  34. Accordingly, the court reverses the decision of the State Board of Education, and orders Respondent _____’s request to discipline Petitioner’s teaching certificate be dismissed , as not authorized by law. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is ordered to record the dismissal of Respondent _____’s disciplinary action against Petitioner’s teaching license on the record of the license, and show Petitioner’s license to be in good standing, not subject to any disciplinary action by Respondent _____, DESE, or the State Board of Education concerning this matter.
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