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Law reworks appeal process for school employees

by Minden Press-Herald

As required by state law, the Webster Parish School Board has now put into place its disciplinary hearing committee that closes loopholes in the appeals process for school employees.

Where once if an employee had a grievance against the WPSB, a hearing was conducted in front of the school board. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls said that is no longer the case.

“The legislature turned over personnel to superintendents,” he said. “The board is completely extracted from that process. When they passed that law (Act 570), there were no procedures in place for the due process for the person who’s been charged to complain. All of the current appeals processes were written for school boards. So, the current laws did not fit the new laws; in other words, they were not compatible.”

Act 570 mandates the school board maintain a list of hearing officers so that when a complaint is made and a teacher or employee requests a hearing, an officer is appointed to take the case.

This list of hearing officers is what the school board adopted in their January meeting, consisting of five hearing officers, many of them attorneys or retired from law practice. Most have experience in mediation.

“This law kind of highlighted what the superintendent can and can’t do,” District 10 Rep. Gene Reynolds said. “If a teacher is going to be disciplined, then the teacher has 10 days from the time of the charges to respond in writing. It authorizes the superintendent to take interim discipline action on this particular teacher.”

The new law also requires the school board to “adopt and maintain procedures to govern the conduct of the hearing.” It may be a private hearing or public, depending on the wishes of the employee.

Rawls said the hearing officers will review statements, events and decisions made by the superintendent if an employee makes an appeal.

“If they do, the entire case will go through a hearing officer,” the superintendent said, “and he may or may not talk to witnesses; he may just read the transcripts.”

Once all the evidence has been presented, Rawls said, the hearing officer will make a determination that will never go to the board.

The ruling could go a number of ways. The ruling could be in favor of the employee, in favor of the school system or somewhere in between.

“If neither one of us accepts it, we go to the next level, and that’s court,” he said.

And even though the school board has been removed to some degree from this process, the board does have the say so regarding the list and the set of procedures put in place.

“In other words, the school board can put in some structure for how the hearing should go,” Reynolds said. “So the school board does have some input.”

Rawls said there were some mixed feelings among board members, not just in Webster Parish, on having some of their authority stripped from them. However, Reynolds said Act 570 was something he was told the “locals actually wanted.”

“I think it was a combined effort to put some structure into it – school board and teacher alike – to have recourse on whatever happened,” Reynolds said. “To a certain extent, it does take some of the politics out, but this is one of those things that gives more authority back to the locals.”

Rawls said these members are picked at random. The hearing officers, none of whom are from Webster Parish, are as follows: Joe Bleich of Ruston, Kent Breard Jr. of Monroe, retired judge Gay Gaskins of Shreveport, Billy J. Guin of Shreveport and Glen W. Strong of Oak Grove.

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