School district seeks to recover salary paid to teacher while case was pending
A recent case arose before the California Court of Appeal when the Los Angeles Unified School District sent a certificated teacher a 2016 notice of intention to dismiss based on problems that allegedly began in 2012.
In an attached statement of charges, the school district’s chief human resources officer alleged the following grounds for termination under California’s Education Code: unprofessional conduct, unsatisfactory performance, evident unfitness for service, persistent violation of or refusal to obey school laws of the state or reasonable regulations for the government of schools, and willful refusal without reasonable cause to perform regular assignments required by the district’s reasonable rules and regulations.
The school district requested immediate suspension without pay and dismissal. It claimed that the teacher failed to plan with fellow teachers, to prepare required paperwork such as lesson plans, and to meet parents.
The school district also alleged that the teacher:
- failed to foster a safe and supportive classroom environment
- did not use effective strategies for promoting student participation during small group instruction
- interrupted students before they could finish making responses correcting their answers or if they paused for a long moment to think
- seemed frustrated when students did not pronounce certain words the way she did or did not repeat exactly what she said
In two instances, a student stopped responding when the teacher adopted a negative tone or continued to make them repeat the same words and sentences numerous times, the school district said.
The teacher filed a motion for immediate reversal of suspension (MIRS). The administrative law judge granted the motion upon finding that the district failed to give a sufficient factual basis for immediate suspension under section 44939(b) of the Education Code. Thus, the teacher received salary while the proceedings were pending.
The school district requested a reconsideration on the ground that the teacher failed to timely file the MIRS. The judge ultimately found that the evidence supported many of the school district’s specific charges, including the teacher’s alleged willful refusal to perform regular assignments.
The school district took the case to the trial court and asked it to recoup the salary payments that the teacher received while the proceedings were pending. The trial court decided that the school district could not recover those payments, which prompted the school district to appeal.
Pay not recouped
In Los Angeles Unified School District v. Office of Administrative Hearings, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District agreed with the trial court’s decision. The school district was not entitled to restitution for the salary and other payments that it made to or on behalf of the teacher while the proceedings were pending, the appellate court ruled.
The school district failed to show that the legislature, when it added the MIRS procedure, meant to allow school districts to recover payments made to subsequently dismissed employees, the appellate court said.
The appellate court accepted that judicial review of MIRS orders might enable school districts to recover some payments made to employees. However, if the school district wanted a remedy like this, it should address its public policy argument to the legislature, not to the court.
The evidence in this case did not provide information about how many MIRS orders were granted and about how much school districts would have to spend to pursue such judicial reviews, the appellate court noted. These reviews might not favor the school district and might not result in the successful collection of payments made to employees, the appellate court added.