HARRISBURG – An appeals court has upheld the firing of a school district employee who served as principal in two elementary schools after his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Commonwealth Court Judge James Colins wrote the nine-page ruling on Aug. 13 affirming the Tunkhannock Area School District Board of School Directors' decision to terminate the employment of Joseph Moffitt.
Moffitt, a former employee of the district, was fired after being arrested twice for DUI; his appeal of the decision was denied by the board on May 9, 2017.
"Moffitt was an employee of the School District when he was arrested in June 2010 for driving under the influence (DUI); his criminal charge was resolved via entry into an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program in Wyoming County."
Almost four years later, in April 2014, "Moffitt was arrested again for DUI and pled guilty in October 2015," the ruling said. In addition to the 12-month suspension of his driver's license, Moffitt also received, per the ruling, "90 days of house arrest, fines, and probation for a maximum of five years."
At the time of the offenses, Moffitt was a school principal, serving at two elementary schools.
On March 11, 2016, the school district issued a letter recommending his dismissal, which led to his termination on Sep. 8, 2016. The letter stated the reason as "Moffitt’s actions were unacceptable and rendered him unable to be a good role model."
Moffitt appealed the decision on Oct. 11, 2016, and it was denied by the board.
In the ruling, Colins emphasized the importance of parents' and teachers' statements and the example set to the students.
"We are constrained to find that in these circumstances, given the weight of evidence presented by parents and teachers in the community that Moffitt’s conduct involving drinking and driving set a bad example for students and was offensive to the morals of their community, the Secretary’s decision to dismiss Moffitt for immorality under the School Code must be affirmed," Colins said in the decision.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Case number 258 M.D. 2017