Published by MoASBO, September 2011
In May 2011, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District upheld the Carthage R-IX Board of Education’s decision to terminate the District’s Director of its Parents as Teachers Program for immoral conduct. In the case of Homa v. Carthage R-IX Sch. Dist, 2011 WL 167550 (Mo. App. S.D. 2011), the Court of Appeals confirmed that what constitutes “immoral conduct” under the Missouri Teacher Tenure Act goes beyond cases of theft and sexual misconduct and Districts are not prohibited from acting to protect the interests of its students and staff.
Under the Missouri Teacher Tenure Act, Section 168.114 RSMo, there are six enumerated grounds upon which an indefinite contract with a permanent teacher may be terminated. One of these grounds is “immoral conduct.” Although there is no singular definition for what constitutes “immoral conduct” under the law, “immoral conduct” contemplates behavior “sufficiently contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals, or involving baseness, vileness or depravity…” Youngman v. Doerhoff, 890 S.W.2d 330, 341 (Mo. App. E.D. 1994). The majority of Missouri case law regarding “immoral conduct” involves cases of sexual misconduct or theft of school property. However, “immoral conduct” is not limited to these categories. The Appellate Court’s decision in Homa, demonstrates that a Board of Education has the power to protect its students from teachers who have demonstrated that they are unfit to teach based on situations which may carry “serious negative repercussions”.
In Homa, the Court of Appeals upheld the Carthage R-IX School District’s decision to terminate the Director of its Parents as Teachers Program, a tenured teacher in the District. After a hearing before the District’s Board of Education, the Board terminated the Director for immoral conduct. The evidence at the hearing before the Board revealed that the Director approved her subordinate’s trip to a jail nearly two hours away from the District to visit a Parents as Teachers client who was in jail awaiting deportation due to her illegal immigrant status. While at the jail, the Parents as Teachers educator solicited the adoption of the woman’s minor child over her fierce objection. Upon the educator’s return to the District from the jail, she confirmed to the Director that she spoke to the PAT client about adoption. Even after confirmation that adoption was discussed at the jail, the Director paid the educator for approximately one half of her mileage to the jail and paid her full salary for the time she visited the jail.
The visit to the jail was concealed for nearly two years until the issue came to the attention of the District’s Superintendent after a reporter from the New York Times started asking questions about this incident. The New York Times reporter became involved in the story after the mother, whose son was ultimately adopted, started proceedings to get her son back. The issue of whether the mother will be reunited with her son is still pending.
After reviewing the evidence, the Board of Education determined that the Director was aware of the illicit purpose for her subordinate’s trip to the jail, that the Director supported the visit with District funds, and helped conceal the true nature of this visit for nearly two years. The Board found that the Director’s participation in this matter defied the very spirit and purpose of the Parents as Teachers Program. The Board voted 6-0 to terminate the Director for her participation in the solicitation of adoption of a minor child.
The Director appealed to the Circuit Court of Jasper County and then eventually brought the case before the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District. Following briefing and oral argument, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the termination decision of the Board of Education.
The Court of Appeals found that the Director’s conduct went “beyond poor judgment and falls outside the scope of acceptable behavior.” The Court also focused on the fact that the Director expended District funds to sponsor the trip to the jail. The Court noted that, “it is not the amount of money improperly spent that raises concern, it is the act of using taxpayer funds for an improper purpose that is at issue.” The Court declined “to restrict the Board’s authority to act in such a situation carrying serious negative repercussions.” Accordingly, the Court of Appeals found that the Director’s conduct constituted “immoral conduct” under the Teacher Tenure Act and affirmed the District’s courageous decision to stand up for the citizens of its school community.
The Director has sought review of this case before the Missouri Supreme Court.
© 2011 Mickes Goldman O’Toole, LLC