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Justices affirm ruling for school in fired principal’s suit

December 16, 2015

An elementary school principal whose administrator’s contract was canceled after school officials learned of his affair with a teacher received constitutional due process in his termination proceedings, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed Tuesday.

Jeffrey Hewitt, while principal of Monon Trail Elementary School in Hamilton County, admitted to having a consensual affair with a teacher in his school, who would have been his subordinate. He agreed to resign as principal, but keep his teaching position, effective June 30, 2012. But the school board was concerned about his continued employment as principal and sought the termination to be effective immediately.  Hewitt refused and the school board voted 4-0 to immediately terminate his administrator contract.

He sued in February 2012, and the trial court ruled in favor of the school corporation. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the same procedures used for terminating a teacher’s contract should have been used in terminating his administrator’s contract.
The justices disagreed in Jeffrey Hewitt v. Westfield Washington School Corporation, et al., 29S04-1506-PL-377.

“[W]hile there are no statutory procedures for cancellation of a principal or other administrator contract, there is a statutory section that addresses the power of the superintendent to terminate principals and teachers. The language in that section further demonstrates that the procedure for terminating a teacher and the procedure for terminating a principal are distinct,” Justice Steven David wrote.

The plain language of Hewitt’s contract, the teacher termination statute, and prior case law all support the decision that an opportunity for a hearing with a just cause determination, and all laws governing the employment and dismissal of teachers only apply to Hewitt’s underlying teacher’s contract.

“Because the School only sought to cancel Hewitt’s administrator’s contract and not his underlying teacher’s contract, the School did not need to comply with these provisions,” David wrote.

The justices also held Hewitt’s due process rights were not violated as he was given sufficient notice and an opportunity to be heard before the school board voted to terminate the contract.
 

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