The Ohio Department of Education has a remarkable record in teacher disciplinary proceedings over the past five years: Nearly 100% of all proceedings decided by the state board of education result in discipline for the teacher. Yes, the standards for “due process” in ODE administrative proceedings are so robust that nearly no one is ever found “not guilty” of the charges leveled.
That fact alone should make the citizenry shiver, as no one involved in the proceedings seems to ever find a chink in the armor of the Department’s overzealous prosecutions. It has the appearance, if not the reality, of a rubber-stamp procedure from beginning to end.
That one-sided history of adjudication of teacher disciplinary proceedings thus made our win this week in Langdon v. Ohio Department of Education all the more sweet.
In a proceeding that endured for more than 36 months, including seven days of trial, and taking six months after the close of the hearing for the Hearing Examiner to issue a decision, our client’s teaching license was revoked by the Ohio Board of Education. She was a special education teacher in the troubled Lakota School District, dealing with developmentally-disabled, multi-handicapped children. We then appealed that administrative decision on behalf of our client to the Butler County Common Pleas Court pursuant to O.R.C. §119.12.
Today, the decision in that appeal was issued, and our client was completely vindicated on all points, evidentiary and legal.
In that decision, the Honorable Judge Keith Spaeth from the Butler County Common Pleas Court found “an appalling lack of fairness and due process” throughout the seven-day proceeding to which our client, Michelle Langdon was subjected. Among the due process violations were
- failure to provide the client with the most basic notice of the alleged infractions,
- a complete failure to ever define “conduct unbecoming” (the basic charge against her), and
- a failure to name her accusers.
To the Ohio Department of Education, fundamental fairness and notice of the charges filed apparently are simply an unneeded inconvenience.
The case was filled with amazing parrys and thrusts to force bureaucratic conformity in the cozy Lakota School District bureaucracy.
- For example, when a teacher’s aide was repeatedly late, absent and lazy on the job, our client hurt her feelings by saying “I just want you to do your job.” As hard as it may be to believe, this fact pattern was one of the dozens of charges — in challenging the inertia of the educational bureaucracy — against which our client had to defend.
- Our client also confronted an administrator in the Lakota Schools for her failure to properly equip the classroom with the furniture and equipment needed for a special needs population. Yes, advocating forcefully for special needs children is the basis for revoking of a teacher’s license according to the Ohio Department of Education.
The Court even cited in its opinion the Hearing Examiner’s strange rulings on procedural and due process issues and the lateness of his decision outside of the statutorily-permitted deadline. Virtually everything about the administrative proceeding was unfortunate and Kafkaesque. This Judge Spaeth clearly understood.
You may read Judge Spaeth’s brilliant decision here. You may read the Finney Law Firm’s briefs before the Common Pleas Court here and here.
This case was a pleasure defending, and the client was a delight.
This is from Judge Sapeth’s decision about our client:
What the evidence and testimony from the administrative hearing does show is that Appellant was a dedicated, caring educator…She was an advocate for these children, and throughout her tenure at Lakota, Appellant went above and beyond the normal duties of a classroom teacher to ensure that her students had a genuine high school experience and resources to help them transition from the classroom to independent living.
We truly were thrilled to help “Make a Difference” for this client in this engagement. The proceeding was important to her license and career, but the bigger principle of reining in an out-of-control state agency was even more important. And here that principle was vindicated.
We now look forward to the expeditious restoration of our client’s teaching licenses and an award of her attorneys fees for forcing her to endure this persecution, which state statute requires.