We all respect the difficult job that public school teachers have, and that most of them do well. The Maryland Education Article does provide, however, in Section 6-202 that on the recommendation of a county superintendent the State Board of Education may terminate the job of a teacher for incompetency. How that process works, and what legal standards must be followed, is illustrated by an unreported opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a recent case called Finlay-Gaines v. Montgomery County Board of Education.
The Court of Special Appeal’s opinion indicates that the appellant began employment with the school system as a special education teacher in 2000, after obtaining the necessary certifications. By 2009, the opinion notes that concerns had been raised about the appellant’s proficiency as a teacher. Public school teachers are evaluated on six Professional Growth System Performance Standards, and concerns were raised by the school principal about such things as the teacher’s performance. The appellant was provided coaching and assistance for the following school year, and was later placed into a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program for additional assistance in improving professional performance.
After two leaves of absence, the appellant was assigned to another school, but was found lacking by the principal in five of the six Performance Standards and the principal recommended termination. She was allowed to participate for another year in the PAR program, but the principal recommended and the PAR panel agreed she should be terminated, and the interim superintendent made that recommendation to the school board. After a hearing before a hearing examiner, who concurred in the dismissal recommendation, the school board heard oral argument and terminated the appellant’s employment. She appealed the decision, and an Administrative Law Judge, after a hearing in which 10 witnesses (including the appellant) testified, upheld the decision to terminate her employment. The State Board adopted most of the ALJ’s findings and dismissed the appellant, which was affirmed by the Circuit Court.
The Court of Special Appeals noted that to uphold dismissal of a teacher for incompetence, the record must support 1) the evaluation process for the teacher’s performance was fair and impartial, 2) the teacher had serious teaching deficiencies, and 3) the teacher had received adequate assistance to attempt to remedy those deficiencies. It noted that its standard of review of a decision of an administrative agency like the State Board of Education was whether the decision was in accordance with law or was “arbitrary, illegal and capricious.” Where the appellant only challenged whether the “fairness” requirement was adequately considered, the appellate court had no difficulty finding that the process in this case was fair and affirmed the State Board’s decision.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.