Goddard School wins defamation case on appeal brought by former teachers

By Laura Halleman | Jun 23, 2017

HARRISBURG — The Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of Goddard Systems in a defamation complaint brought by two former teachers who alleged its Harrisburg school wrongfully discharged them when they reported a case of possible child abuse regarding one of their students.

On May 23, the court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Goddard on the defamation count brought by plaintiffs G. Michelle Krolczyk and Lydia DiCola, who were employed by the Goddard School of Harrisburg as early education teachers.

They kept a journal outlining incidents with a child at the school who they believed was exhibiting possible signs of child abuse. Incidents included aggressive behavior toward the teachers and other children in which the child would threaten to kill, stab and shoot them. The child also frequently defecated on himself, threw objects and prevented the teachers, through physical and verbal assaults, from instructing the other children in the class.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs stated the child “kicked, scratched, and tried to bite Ms. Krolczyk several times and informed her that he was going to get a machine gun and load it with bullets and blow her head off.”

After repeated incidents of trying to physically assault the plaintiffs, the child bit another teacher while being restrained. The child refused to remove his teeth from the teacher and the plaintiffs attempted to calm the child by restraining him so they could remove his teeth from the teacher.

A few days later, the plaintiffs gave the journal of the child’s violent behavior to defendant Nicole Wishard, who owned and operated the school. They then called the Pennsylvania Department of Education, as they are mandated reporters of child abuse, and reported their concerns for the child.

A few hours later, the plaintiffs were called at home by Wishard and were told they were fired. Wishard then sent a letter to the parents of the pre-school children that stated the plaintiffs “were terminated 'for various reasons' but Ms. Wishard assured them 'that protecting both the children’s interest as well as the parents’ interest as well as the good of this school are the deciding factors for my decision.'”

In the complaint, the defendants stated that the child in question had been restrained against school policy and therefore the plaintiffs were fired.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs had sufficient evidence to report the possibility of child abuse and neglect but that they failed to prove that reporting it was the reason they were fired.

In reference to the letter Wishard sent out to parents, the court ruled that the phrase “for the good of the people,” as stated in the letter, “did not suggest that plaintiffs were not capable teachers and did not have the implication that plaintiffs seek to have us make.”

The Superior Court affirmed the decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

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