The Court of Appeals in Logan County, Ohio recently upheld a decision of the Indian Lake School District Board of Education terminating its superintendent after he was arrested for gross sexual imposition of a minor.
The superintendent was placed on paid administrative leave the day following his arrest. The Board adopted a resolution nine days later that initiated the termination process based on the nature of the charges, including that the arrest required a report to the Ohio Department of Education and suspension from all duties during the pendency of criminal action. The resolution also noted that the arrest generated extensive media coverage that resulted in staff, parents, students, and community members becoming aware of the charges. The Board determined that the superintendent was thus unable to effectively perform his duties.
The superintendent elected to have a hearing on his termination before a state appointed referee. After a five-day hearing, the referee issued a report and recommendation concluding the Board failed to provide reliable, probative, and substantial evidence that just cause supported the superintendent’s termination. The referee focused on the fact that the Board failed to demonstrate that the superintendent engaged in any conduct warranting termination. Instead, the Board alleged that it was the fact of his arrest that rendered him unable to perform his duties. The referee believed this could not support a termination order and recommended that the superintendent remain on unpaid leave pending the criminal proceedings.
The Board rejected the referee’s recommendation, and in accordance with R.C. 3319.16 terminated the superintendent. The superintendent appealed to the court of common pleas. As it turned out, the superintendent was convicted and sentenced during the pendency of his appeal. He subsequently filed a motion to strike the Board’s reference to his conviction in his appeal. The court denied that motion and upheld the Board’s decision to reject the referee’s recommendation and terminate the superintendent.
The court specifically found that the nature of the allegations, in light of his position and loss of community trust, prevented him from effectively performing his duties. The court also held that it could not ignore the fact that the superintendent was convicted while his appeal was pending. The court also found that the Board did not need to indefinitely postpone the termination action until after the criminal proceedings were resolved, meanwhile suffering the damage caused by the turmoil created by the uncertainty and doubt as to the strength of the school system’s integrity.
Despite his conviction, incarceration, and inability to work as a superintendent or teacher under law, the superintendent appealed to the court of appeals. The court of appeals noted that courts cannot substitute their judgment for the judgment of the Board if substantial and credible evidence is presented to support the charges. The court of appeals held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in upholding the Board’s decision. The superintendent was required to be suspended from all duties requiring the care, custody, or control of children pursuant to R.C. 3319.40 and 3319.31. The court noted that he was unable to perform his job duties based on that fact alone. As a result, the lower court’s conclusion that the superintendent was terminated for good and just cause was not an abuse of discretion and the termination was permitted to stand.