Pa. teacher on indefinite suspension sues district for financial hardship
A teacher with the Coatesville Area School District who has been on indefinite suspension since June 2010 has filed a federal lawsuit against the district, contending the district’s failure to schedule timely hearings in her case has caused her financial hardship and emotional strain.
Attorney William C. Reil filed the complaint March 23 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of West Chester, Pa. resident Pamela Nichols.
The complaint states that the case arises out of an “unreasonable and prejudicial delay” by the school district involving Nichols’ indefinite suspension and a failure by the school board to keep her abreast of her job status.
“Although there have been numerous witnesses and administrative hearings, plaintiff still does not have a definite time by which the hearings will be concluded, and she will have a decision on the merits,” the lawsuit states.
According to her suspension letter, which was attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit, Nichols was put on leave and charged by school district administrators with unsatisfactory teaching performance based on two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluation ratings not less than four months apart, persistent negligence in the performance of duties and willful neglect of duties.
The lawsuit states that the school board held hearings for Nichols on six different occasions between November 2011 and April 2011.
Three of those hearings, however, were continued because the school board lost a tape of a school board meeting, the suit states.
An arbitrator is supposed to rule on the legal issue involving the missing tape, the suit states.
Meanwhile, the school board has scheduled four additional meetings to take place throughout the month of August.
The complaint states that the administrative case against Nichols has been divided into two parts: one to see if the issues that caused Nichols’ suspension were justified and the other to see if a mediator can rule on the two unsatisfactory ratings that serve as the basis for her termination.
A decision on part one is due by late June 2012, exactly two years after Nichols’ initial suspension was issued.
If Nichols prevails on the issue in part one of the case, additional hearings will be scheduled for August 2012.
“In short, since plaintiff has been suspended, it will be into the third academic year into the suspension before plaintiff finds out if she prevails,” the suit states.
The lawsuit accuses the school district of failing to award Nichols, a tenured teacher, a timely hearing; failing to have any deadline for the time it takes for a disciplinary hearing to be conducted; causing unreasonable delay in plaintiff’s administrative hearings; violating Nichols’ civil rights; violating her rights of due process; causing unreasonable delays into her hearings; and causing prejudice to Nichols because of the unreasonable delays.
On the latter, the suit claims that Nichols has been prejudiced because a potential three-year hiatus in classroom teaching will “erode her classroom skills and also make it more difficult for her to recall the incidents with which she is charged.”
The suit also says Nichols has been prejudiced by the delays since students involved in her case may have graduated or may have difficulty recalling events after such lengthy delay.
Nichols demands unspecified punitive damages in addition to attorney’s fees and reinstatement to her teaching position.
The federal case number is 2:12-cv-01495-NS.