Board of Trustees, Laramie County School Dist. No. 1 v. Spiegel

Decision Date22 April 1976
Docket NumberNo. 4494,4494
Citation549 P.2d 1161
PartiesBOARD OF TRUSTEES, LARAMIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. I, Appellant (Respondent below), v. In the Matter of Sydney SPIEGEL, Appellee (Petitioner below).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

John J. Rooney, of Rooney & Horiskey, Cheyenne, for appellant.

Philip P. Whynott, of DeHerrera & Whynott, Cheyenne, for appellee.

Before GUTHRIE, C. J., McCLINTOCK, THOMAS and ROSE, JJ., and REUEL J. ARMSTRONG, D. J., retired.

ROSE, Justice.

The board of trustees of the school district versus Sydney Spiegel, the teacher, is a contest about liberty. There is involved in this appeal the question of

'Liberty, as conceived by the freespeech provisions of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, and

'Liberty, as it is contemplated by the fair-hearing provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

Learned Hand spoke about the spirit of liberty when he addressed a group of newly-naturalized citizens at ceremonies in New York's Central Park in 1944. He said:

'The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, nearly two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.'

BACKGROUND

This appeal comes to us from an order of the District Court which reversed the order of the Board of Trustees of Laramie County School District No. 1 terminating the contract of employment of Sydney Spiegel, a continuing contract teacher, after a hearing had been afforded him pursuant to § 21.1-158 W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp.

The issue before the Board was whether or not there was cause to approve the recommendation for termination of Spiegel's employment contract.

Procedurally, Mr. Spiegel was given notice of recommendation of termination on March 12, 1973. He requested a hearing as required by § 21.1-158, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp., on March 22, 1973. A notice of hearing was given on March 22, 1973, with the hearing scheduled for April 6, 1973, within the 30-day period required by § 21.1-158, supra. Appellee-Spiegel then, on March 29, 1973, filed Motions for Change of Hearing Room, More Definite Statement, In Limine, and To Dismiss. On April 4, 1973, he filed a Motion to Set Matters for Hearing Prior to Hearing, Motion for Extension of Time (for hearing), Motion to Correct Personnel File, and Motion to Strike. Except insofar as the motions were heard on April 5, 1973, pursuant to the Motion to Set Matters for Hearing prior to the Hearing, the motions were all denied on April 6, 1973, prior to the commencement of the Board's hearing on the issues. The hearing itself was commenced on April 6, 1973, and, after an intermission of some days, was continued. Arguments of counsel were heard on May 30, 1973. The Board decided that Spiegel's contract should not be renewed.

Spiegel had requested permission to voir dire the Board in an effort to ascertain its bias-or lack of it-its partiality or impartiality. In refusing the request, the Board said that it intended to act only on the evidence presented, that it was aware of its qualifications, and that it was familiar with the provisions of the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act and the School Code under which it was proceeding.

FACTS

We will relate some of the essential facts upon which this appeal is predicated and others will be referred to as the occasion demands.

On the 15th day of March, 1973, the appellant-Board of Trustees forwarded a notice of termination to Sydney Spiegel, a continuing contract teacher who had been employed in the Cheyenne school system for some nineteen years. It read:

'NOTICE OF RECOMMENDATION OF TERMINATION

'To Sydney Spiegel:

'Notice is hereby given to you that on March 12, 1973, the Board of Trustees of School District Number One Unanimously passed the following resolution which is self-explanatory, to-wit:

'RESOLVED: That this Board hereby recognizes the recommendation by Mr. Willits Brewster, a Board member, of the termination of the Teaching contract of Mr. Sydney Spiegel, effective at the end of the school year 1972-73; and that Mr. Spiegel be given notice immediately in writing of this recommendation and of the fact that the recommendation was made for the reasons that a number of students, on their own or because of parental concern, had withdrawn from, or refused to enroll in classes taught by him. Further for the reason that his philosophy on teaching methods and procedures has been in conflict with that of the administration and of the Board of Trustees and that this gap in philosophy has not narrowed as anticipated with the passage of years; and further that he does not have the ability to work harmoniously and cooperatively with the administration and Board of Trustees. The notice shall also inform him further the reasons given for the withdrawal or refusal to enter his classes were an adverse effect which he had on the emotional stability, discipline, cooperative attitude, civic reasponsibility, loyalty, maturity of judgment, personality and character of the students in his classes.

's/ Joe E. Lutjeharms

'Superintendent of Schools'

The findings of fact made up by the Board after the hearing cast light on the problems existing between Spiegel and the Board. Paraphrased, the findings show that in 1972-1973 a race-relations problem existed at Central High School in Cheyenne. The Board caused an investigation to be made of the matter and the investigator submitted a report which Mr. Spiegel failed to read. An assembly to honor Martin Luther King was authorized by school officials at Central and the school charges that two boys were told not to distribute leaflets concerning the assembly but they did it anyway. The school says that Mr. Spiegel knew of the boy's plan but did not report this to the officials, all in violation of his duty to the school. One of the boys was expelled and another suspended and the Board found that their testimony was 'willfully incorrect and untrue in significant detail.' The Board found Spiegel's 'attitude' deficient in that he did not help the administration before the incident and in that he attended a protest meeting afterwards.

The Board further found that Mr. Spiegel made and published certain statements criticizing the administrator of his school and schools generally. Documents introduced show that the statements were made and published in connection with Mr. Spiegel's union activities-not in connection with his school activities. There is no necessity to relate in detail these utterances, but suffice it to say, the tenor was sharply critical of administrators in education for the reason that the techniques employed by them in the administration of the schools had the effect of harming instead of aiding the educational processes.

The Board objected to Spiegel's attitude toward submission of lesson plans-taking class attendance rolls-the way he permitted his class to receive messages-placing a rope a across his door so persons could not interrupt his teaching during the class hour-his failure to sign out when leaving the school building. It was charged that parents requested the students be withdrawn 'for any or all of the foregoing oppositions, rejections, objections, actions, attitudes or statements.'

from his class-the administration objected to his philosophical concepts- that he had not followed the methods, requirements and rules of the school and his attitude with respect thereto left a lot to be desired and were 'in disregard of the rights and requirements of others'-that he disregarded the direction of the Board and the administration-his attitude was on of defiance and that his contract should therefore be terminated

As we have seen, the District Court found against the Board and we hereafter discuss the issues which make up the appeal.

VOIR DIRE 1

'. . . Voir dire of the board would have been a useless procedure . . .' (Appellant's brief)

The appellee requested and was refused the right to inquire of the members of the School Board as on voir dire. Translated, this term means 'to speak the truth.' The process involving voir dire is invoked when, among other things, the 'interest' of those who are to be questioned are in issue.

While the 'interests' of the Board are the subject of the appellee's proposed inquiry on voir dire, the right to make such inquiry must be shown.

The right to inquire, if one exists, comes from the right of the appellee to a fair hearing before the School Board.

Right to a Fair Hearing

The Ohio Supreme Court said in Sorin v. Board of Education, 39 Ohio Misc. 108, 315 N.E.2d 848, 851 (March 1974):

'In accordance with the decisions of various jurisdictions and the Supreme Court of the United States, an unbiased tribunal is a constitutional necessity in a quasi-judicial hearing, and a denial of the same is a denial of due process. Ward v. Village of Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57, 93 S.Ct. 80, 34 L.Ed.2d 267; Tumay v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 47 S.Ct. 437, 71 L.Ed. 749; In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942. The requirement of an impartial tribunal applies to administrative proceedings no less than criminal trials. Goldbeg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287.'

Section 9-276.30, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp., provides that hearings under the Wyoming administrative Procedure Act shall be conducted in an 'impartial manner' and § 9-276.29 of the act recognizes the possibility of impropriety and seeks to safeguard against bias and prejudice.

We addressed the problem of the fairhearing requirements of due...

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