By: Stacy V. Pollock
Ever since the Ohio General Assembly amended the state’s teacher termination statute (R.C. §3319.16) years ago to reference a “good and just cause” standard, school boards have struggled to understand what constitutes “good and just cause.” Last week, an Ohio state court of appeals confirmed that a teacher’s failure to enter her student’s final grades constitutes “good and just cause”, and thus is a terminable offense under R.C. §3319.16.
In Thomas v. Dayton Pub. Schools Bd. of Edn., 2018-Ohio-4231 (2nd Dist., Oct. 19, 2018), the Board of Education initiated termination proceedings against a teacher on four counts including a count of failure to enter final grades for her students. Pursuant to her statutory rights, the teacher demanded an administrative hearing. A Referee took three days of testimony and evidence, and ultimately recommended no termination on all counts except on the charge that the teacher failed to enter final grades for her students.
The Board reviewed the hearing transcript and evidence, rejected the recommendation on the first three counts, and found that all counts were sufficiently supported so as to constitute good and just cause for termination under R.C. §3319.16. As she was permitted to do, the teacher appealed the Board’s decision to the common pleas court. The teacher argued, in part, that the intent of §3319.16 is not served if the Board can reject the Referee’s findings without an explanation. The trial court may only reverse a board’s order of termination of a teacher’s contract where it finds that the board’s termination order is not supported by or is against the weight of the evidence. The trial court vacated the Board’s Order as to each of the charges except the charge relating to the teacher’s failure to enter final grades.
The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision to terminate based upon the charge of her failure to enter her students’ final grades. The Ohio Second Appellate District reviewed the trial court’s decision to ensure that the trial court had not abused its discretion. The Second District held that the trial court had not abused its discretion.
Like the Referee, the Board and the trial court, the Second District determined that the teacher’s failure to enter final grades into the school’s electronic grading system was sufficiently good and just cause for termination. The evidence did not support the teacher’s explanation that she was unfamiliar with the electronic system used for grades and was therefore unable to submit the grades. The teacher knew that the grades were due, knew that the final grades were critical to students, and she knew that the grades would be due a month before their due date. Yet, she made scant effort to input the grades on time.
While this matter ultimately was determined in favor of the Board (pending any possible appeal by the teacher to the Ohio Supreme Court), the Board spent over two years of energy and possibly significant financial resources defending the termination. Boards are encouraged to stay apprised of court decisions that assist in defining the §3319.16 “good and just cause” standard. Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder (MRR) will continue to keep an eye on any other noteworthy cases and report them, accordingly.
Stacy is a Partner in MRR’s Columbus office and is a certified specialist in employment and labor law, in addition to a certified Professional in Human Resources. She has considerable experience in education law, representing schools and school administrators involving employee and student disciplinary matters. Stacy also advises public and private employers in matters involving leave and discipline issues, personnel policy matters and labor negotiations and arbitrations.