WA Legal Roundup - WA State Supreme Court: No appeal of hearing for school district. Must read for teachers!
When a teacher loses a dispute in this state at the level of administrative hearing, they have the ability to appeal to the court. A lot of this is rooted in the fact that the license carries with it the ability to work. Any law student who has taken constitutional law can tell you that (due process, people). In Washington, its also governed by statute.
The statute doesn't provide a right of appeal to the school districts if the hearing officer finds for the teacher, a fact which has been just affirmed by our supreme court:
We hold that the statutory writ, an extraordinary remedy, is not available to the school district. In contrast, the constitutional writ is always available to a party seeking relief from arbitrary, capricious, or illegal acts. The hearing officer acted within the limits of his statutory authority, and his final decision was not arbitrary or capricious. We reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the attorney fees awarded by the superior court.
The court of appeals reasoning below basically held that a teacher could be fired for doing anything not work related during the school day, even if at lunch:
The Court of Appeals first deviated from our stated rule in Clarke in Sauter v. Mount Vernon School District No. 320, 58 Wn. App. 121, 791 P.2d 549 (1990). Relying on Pryse and Potter, the Sauter court eliminated the remediability prong of the second Clarke test. Sauter, 58 Wn. App. at 130-31. The Sauter test — sufficient cause for a teacher's discharge exists as a matter of law where the teacher's deficiency is (1) irremediable and materially and substantially affects the teacher's performance or (2) lacks any positive educational aspect or legitimate professional purpose — eradicated the significant protections previously afforded teachers by the sufficient cause standard. Under the Sauter test, any misconduct will be grounds for discharge because, by definition, misconduct is behavior that "lacks any positive educational aspect or legitimate professional purpose." Id. at 130.
The ramifications of the modified-Clarke rule are glaringly apparent in Vinson. The Clarke rule as modified by Vinson holds that any time a teacher, in the course of his job, engages in conduct lacking any "professional purpose," that teacher may be discharged. Vinson, 154 Wn. App. at 230. This creates a per se rule of discharge under which any school-day lapse, no matter how minor and no matter the context, will always constitute sufficient cause for the teacher's discharge. Essentially, the Vinson court, relying on Sauter, removes the required nexus between alleged teacher misconduct or deficiency and teaching performance. We reject this alteration of our Clarke rule. The nexus requirement finds root in the constitution. See, e.g., Hoagland, 95 Wn.2d at 429 ("[I]t would violate due process to discharge a teacher without showing actual impairment to performance.").
Sufficient cause may be found as a matter of law, without applying the Clarke test or Hoagland factors, in only the most egregious cases. We hold that where a teacher engages in sexually exploitive conduct or physical abuse of a student, sufficient cause is established as a matter of law; the Clarke test and Hoagland factors (if applicable, see Clarke, 106 Wn.2d at 114) must be applied in all nonflagrant instances of misconduct.
So basically, because the conduct of the teacher on his lunch (shouting match with a former student, who was harassing him because of gender identity) had nothing to do with his ability to teach, he gets to keep his job.