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Principal fired for relationship with teacher wins appeal

December 30, 2014

A Westfield elementary school principal fired in 2011 for a consensual sexual relationship with a teacher he supervised won an appeal of his lawsuit against the school corporation, which had been granted summary judgment by the trial court.

“The School has failed to carry the ‘onerous burden’ of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the School is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on Hewitt’s breach of contract and due process claims,” Indiana Court of Appeals Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote in Jeffrey Hewitt v. Westfield Washington School Corp; Board of School Trusties of Westfield Washington School Corp. et al.,  29A04-1403-PL-130. “Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the School. We therefore remand for further proceedings.”

Hewitt’s contract as former principal of Monon Trail Elemenary School was the same as those signed by teachers, with the exception of language specifying his administrative role. Consistent with the contract as interpreted under state law, Hewitt should have been allowed a hearing at which he could present evidence, the court ruled. While the school board did allow a private conference before his termination, evidence was excluded.

The school contended that any evidence would have been fruitless because Hewitt had acknowledged the sexual relationship and that common sense dictates inherent problems with a supervisor engaging in such a relationship with a subordinate. The appeals panel, though, found Hewitt’s admission didn’t relieve the school of its duty to provide a hearing described in I.C. 20-28-7.5-2(g).

“Although we do not condone Hewitt’s behavior, we observe that ‘common sense’ may dictate there are ‘inherent problems’ with many relationships and circumstances that could exist within school districts and, from the outside, create an appearance of impropriety or apparent conflict of interest,” Bailey wrote. “… Despite their ‘inherent problems,’ none of these relationships regularly constitute just cause for contract cancellation, presumably because they do not always interfere with the ‘school board’s task of building up and maintaining an efficient school system.’”

The Indiana School Boards Association appeared in the case as amicus for the Westfield Washington defendants.

 

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