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Dundee suspends teacher, wants to terminate

DUNDEE—A tenured social studies teacher of Dundee Central School, Douglas Coleman, has been charged with a number of different allegations, including that he threatened to kill a student.
The Dundee district noted that Hearing Officer Dennis Campagna found Coleman guilty of charges that included poor grading procedures, failing to follow directives to avoid using nicknames with students, placing his hands on various students and threatening to kill a student for failing to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Campagna suspended Coleman without pay but planned to continue his health insurance for six months. The school board then decided to begin the suspension effective June 2.
The Dundee school board voiced their disappointment with Campagna’s decision (to continue paying health benefits for six months) and Initiated litigation in the state Supreme Court seeking to have the six month suspension modified and permit the district to terminate the teacher. (The New York State Education Law, Section 3020-a, gave the district no choice but to implement the hearing officer’s decision.)
The board believes Campagna’s decision to require the district to continue to pay its share of health insurance premiums during the course of the unpaid suspension is legally improper. This issue was addressed in Supreme Court, Ontario County in a case from Clifton Springs Central School District in which Ontario County Judge Frederick Reed concluded that a similar ruling by Campagna was beyond his authority as hearing officer.
The estimated cost of the health insurance for the six months is approximately $7,100. Superintendent of Schools Kathy Ring said the school’s attorneys will file an appeal of Campagna’s decision.
In the decision that followed incidents in 1996, state education department hearing officer Pohl noted Coleman had been praised over the years for valuable contributions to Dundee. However, Pohl commented on the nature and seriousness of the actions of which Coleman was found guilty. At that time Coleman was put on notice that he was to conform to in-school conduct expected of a teacher in the Dundee School District.
Section 3020-a sets forth the process by which tenured teachers and administrators are to be disciplined. Provisions in the law were amended in 1994 to address concerns about the cost and length of time to complete. While some improvements may have resulted the length of the process never comes close to the 128 days from the time charges were served on an employee until a hearing officer issues a written decision on the charges. An article on the Four County School Boards Association, of which the Dundee district is a member, noted, “It is clear that additional reform is required to make Section 3020-a a fair and efficient tool for tenured employee discipline.”

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