Powell v. Board of Trustees of Crook County School Dist. No. 1, Crook County, No. 4524

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore GUTHRIE; ROSE; We reaffirm and again embrace this rule. Still, in the school systems, there are some interrelated obligations which are sometimes overlooked, disregarded, or-perhaps-simply not understood by school administrators, teachers, law
Citation550 P.2d 1112
Decision Date11 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 4524
PartiesThomas W. POWELL, Appellant (Appellant-Contestant below), v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF CROOK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. I, CROOK COUNTY, Wyoming, Appellee (Appellee-Respondent below).

Page 1112

550 P.2d 1112
Thomas W. POWELL, Appellant (Appellant-Contestant below),
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF CROOK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. I, CROOK COUNTY, Wyoming, Appellee (Appellee-Respondent below).
No. 4524.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
June 11, 1976.

Richard S. Dumbrill, of Jones & Dumbrill, Newcastle, for appellant.

Edward S. Halsey, Newcastle, for appellee.

Before GUTHRIE, C. J., and McCLINTOCK, RAPER, THOMAS and ROSE, JJ.

Page 1113

ROSE, Justice.

INTRODUCTION

It is axiomatic that the courts should not undertake to administer the school systems of Wyoming. We should not substitute our judgment in educational matters for those of school boards and administrators. We said as much in Shenefield v. Sheridan County School District No. 1, Wyo., 544 P.2d 870, 874:

'. . . This court has consistently recognized the importance of administrative boards and their decisions. It has adhered to the rule that our courts will not substitute their judgment for that of the particular board or commission . . .' (Citing cases) 1

We reaffirm and again embrace this rule. Still, in the school systems, there are some interrelated obligations which are sometimes overlooked, disregarded, or-perhaps-simply not understood by school administrators, teachers, lawyers, judges, and even the public at large. We need to contemplate these as we revisit the manner in which school administrators and teachers are legally obligated to conduct themselves with respect to each other and their professional duties.

First off, the general public-indeed, all of society, has a massive interest in maintaining good schools. 'Good schools' means good teachers-and by 'good teachers' we mean 'good' in all important aspects of their professional lives.

Secondly, however, we must remember that teachers are mere humans with the same strengths, foibles and frailties common to all of us. It may, therefore, be assumed that an individual teacher may or may not-for one reason or the other-be able to fit into a given school system. Whether or not the teacher can adjust to the established order does not change the fact that he or she is still a human being. The heavy responsibility that the teacher agrees to and must discharge to the organized school structure is placed into apposition by the school board's counterobligation not to play whimsical games with the lives of those whose service they have enlisted. If the teacher does not measure up, according to reasonable standards of professional requirement, the teacher may be removed, but in the process of removal, all the rights and interests of all of those concerned must be considered. This includes the rights of

(a) Society;

(b) The children;

(c) The parents;

(d) The other school teachers;

(e) The administrators; and

(f) The teacher himself.

In protecting all of these various rights, the court must see that the rules and the law with respect to removal and termination are followed. If they are not-and in the discharge of our duties of protecting all of the peoples' interests-the court will not approve the actions of the board. School boards must follow the law in dismissing teachers. Where they do not-as here-the dismissal cannot receive our sanction.

BACKGROUND

When he was dismissed (or terminated) 2, the appellant Powell was, and had

Page 1114

been for eight years, a continuing contract teacher in the Moorcroft High School, Crook County, Wyoming, with some constitutionally-protected rights in his employment. Roush v. Sweetwater County School District No. 1, Wyo., 497 P.2d 540.

Powell received a letter informing him that his superintendent was recommending his contract not be renewed for the school year 1974-1975, under and by authority of § 21.1-160, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp., pertaining to suspension and dismissal of teachers. A hearing was demanded and had on an oral agreement, whereby the parties acknowledged that the only charges against which the teacher need defend are the following:

'1. Neglect of duty (leaving the classroom and students unattended).

'2. Failure to follow district policy as outlined under general regulations. (N) Page (sic) 31 and 32.

'3. The inability to establish rapport with students.

'4. Insubordination.'

Of the four charges, only 'neglect of duty' and 'insubordination' are specific statutory grounds for dismissal (§ 21.1-160, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp.). 'Failure to follow district policy' and 'inability to establish rapport with the students' are grounds for termination only if they may be included in the phrase, 'other good or just cause,' as recited by § 21.1-160, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp. 3

After the hearing the Board convened to consider the question at hand, with the Minutes of the Board reflecting the following:

'Chairman Moline called the Board back into regular session and called for a vote on the following order: Order to terminate the contract of Thomas W. Powell at the conclusion of the 1973-74 school year on grounds of failure to establish rapport with students. The vote being 8 to 0, It was therefore ordered by the Board of Trustees of Crook County School District No. One, that the contestant's employment with Crook County School District No. One be, and is, hereby terminated at the conclusion of the 1973-74 school year.' (Emphasis supplied)

The only relevant purported 'finding of fact' is:

A. 'That the Contestant has been unable to control the conduct of his students as evidenced by the unusual amount of disciplinary problems that have developed in his classroom during the 1973-1974 school year, which in turn has caused a great amount of dissention (sic) between the Administration and the Contestant.' (Emphasis supplied)

The applicable purported 'conclusion of law' made by the Board is:

B. 'That the Contestant failed to establish rapport with his students during the 1973-1974 school year.' (Emphasis supplied)

Of course, 'B' above is not a conclusion of law. However, in order to thoroughly inquire of the question, we are assuming that it was placed in 'conclusions of law' by mistake; and, for purposes of this part of our opinion only, we treat it as though it were categorized as a 'finding of fact.' 4

Page 1115

In light of the charges lodged-the Board's order, together with the 'finding of fact,' which finding determined-only that the teacher

'has been unable to control the conduct of his students . . .'

and our gratuitous assumption that he

'failed to establish rapport with his students . . .'

is also a finding of fact for the limited purpose of this portion of the problem's analysis, we, therefore must come to the following conclusions:

(1) He was found not guilty of the charge of 'neglect of duty.'

(2) He was found not guilty of the charge of 'insubordination.'

(3) He was found not guilty of a charge of 'failure to follow district policy as outlined under general regulations. (N) Pages 31 and 32.' 5

(4) He was found guilty of a professional deficiency which allegedly constituted statutory 'good or just causes(s)' for termination, namely,

(a) inability to establish rapport and

(b) an inability to control the conduct of the students.

It must be remembered that, of these last two complaints, the order of the Board found him guilty of only one-inability to establish rapport. The teacher was only charged with one-failure to establish rapport. The other student-disciplinary accusation, consisting of an inability 'to control the conduct of the students,' was not brought against him. We ask, rhetorically, if there is not a fatal, irreconcilable inconsistency between a finding of not guilty of the charge of failure to follow the Board's student-discipline policy and a finding of fact that the contestant is 'unable to control the conduct of the students,' a charge that was not made against him. 6

THE ISSUE

We delineate the only issue for decision to be whether or not a failure to establish 'rapport' with the students is ground for dismissal as ordered by the Board. Since we find that such ground does not exist, it is not necessary to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to support the order of failure to establish rapport.

Exclusion of Inability to Control Conduct as an Issue on Appeal

In defining the issue, we exclude the question of whether or not the appellant

Page 1116

was unable to control the conduct of his students. Inability to control conduct is a student-discipline matter and the ability or inability of the teacher to maintain discipline in the classroom is not in issue because, while he was charged with a failure to follow the District's discipline policy, he stands, by reason of the Board's silent response, not guilty of this. Mr. Powell was not charged with any other disciplinary shortcoming. The result of the operation of a presumption of innocence seems to us to say, with reference to the Board's disciplinary policy 7, that:

(a) He was able to meaningfully motivate the students through preparation and planning;

(b) He stressed Board standards of conduct-not 'rules and regulations';

(c) He provided 'necessary guidance for continuing student self actualizating'; and

(d) Where the students were 'continuously disruptive,' it is to be assumed that the teacher, according to Board policy, employed and called upon 'the resources of the district; i.e., administrators, guidance counselors, etc.,' in an effort to 'rehabilitate the student prior to taking action designed to remove the student from school.' It must be further assumed that the appellant employed and gave effect to the procedures established by the Board to be followed for student discipline, namely, informing student, principal and counselor and parents of unacceptable behavior-that he discharged his obligations with respect to arranging parental conferences and he adhered to the rules with respect to suspension.

Inability to Control Conduct

Should inability to control the conduct of the students be excluded from our consideration? The only...

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28 practice notes
  • Mekss v. Wyoming Girls' School, State of Wyo., No. 89-235
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 12, 1991
    ...v. Oil and Gas Conservation Comm'n, 569 P.2d 87, 90-91 (Wyo.1977); Powell v. Board of Trustees, Crook County School District No. 1, 550 P.2d 1112, 1120 (Wyo.1976). Similarly, we have held that a contested case hearing must provide, and the record of that proceeding must document, informatio......
  • Board of Trustees of Weston County School Dist. No. 1, Weston County v. Holso, Nos. 4807
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • August 28, 1978
    ...fitness or capacity to perform his duties in that position. Powell v. Board of Trustees of Crook County School District No. 1, Wyo., 550 P.2d 1112, 1119. See, Monahan v. Board of Trustees of Elementary School District No. 9, Wyo., 486 P.2d 235, 237; and Roush v. Sweetwater County School Dis......
  • Newman v. STATE EX REL. WORKERS'SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, No. 01-191.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 19, 2002
    ...v. Oil and Gas Conservation Comm'n, 569 P.2d 87, 90-91 (Wyo.1977); Powell v. Board of Trustees, Crook County School District No. 1, 550 P.2d 1112, 1120 (Wyo.1976). Similarly, we have held that a contested case hearing must provide, and the record of that proceeding must document, informatio......
  • Hartman v. Merged Area VI Community College, No. 2-60731
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • October 18, 1978
    ...School District, 28 Vt. 575, 582 (1856); Madison County Bd. v. Miles, 252 Miss. 711, 173 So.2d 425 (1965); Powell v. Board of Trustees, 550 P.2d 1112, 1118-19 (Wyo.1976) (The statute being construed is set out in the dissent of Raper, J., at 1127.); Cf. Board of School Trustees v. Rathbun, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Mekss v. Wyoming Girls' School, State of Wyo., No. 89-235
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 12, 1991
    ...v. Oil and Gas Conservation Comm'n, 569 P.2d 87, 90-91 (Wyo.1977); Powell v. Board of Trustees, Crook County School District No. 1, 550 P.2d 1112, 1120 (Wyo.1976). Similarly, we have held that a contested case hearing must provide, and the record of that proceeding must document, informatio......
  • Board of Trustees of Weston County School Dist. No. 1, Weston County v. Holso, Nos. 4807
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • August 28, 1978
    ...fitness or capacity to perform his duties in that position. Powell v. Board of Trustees of Crook County School District No. 1, Wyo., 550 P.2d 1112, 1119. See, Monahan v. Board of Trustees of Elementary School District No. 9, Wyo., 486 P.2d 235, 237; and Roush v. Sweetwater County School Dis......
  • Newman v. STATE EX REL. WORKERS'SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, No. 01-191.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 19, 2002
    ...v. Oil and Gas Conservation Comm'n, 569 P.2d 87, 90-91 (Wyo.1977); Powell v. Board of Trustees, Crook County School District No. 1, 550 P.2d 1112, 1120 (Wyo.1976). Similarly, we have held that a contested case hearing must provide, and the record of that proceeding must document, informatio......
  • Hartman v. Merged Area VI Community College, No. 2-60731
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • October 18, 1978
    ...School District, 28 Vt. 575, 582 (1856); Madison County Bd. v. Miles, 252 Miss. 711, 173 So.2d 425 (1965); Powell v. Board of Trustees, 550 P.2d 1112, 1118-19 (Wyo.1976) (The statute being construed is set out in the dissent of Raper, J., at 1127.); Cf. Board of School Trustees v. Rathbun, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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