MOUNT VERNON — The contract termination hearing for Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater has been going on intermittently for more than a year. That, apparently, is not an unusual situation.
Van Keating, director of management services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said contested termination hearings often last more than one year.
He said termination hearings generally fall into one of two groupings — contested and uncontested. It is the uncontested ones that end quickly.
“Quite often,” Keating said, “uncontested terminations result in the teacher resigning before the board actually takes formal action to terminate, thereby saving the teacher the embarrassment of being fired and having that on the record. It also saves the district time and money.
“Contested terminations are the direct opposite,” he continued. “They are costly, time consuming and generate considerable publicity to the detriment of all parties. Contested terminations are legal proceedings and can easily take a year or more to conclude. Witnesses called to testify can vary in numbers, depending on the facts of each situation, but usually quite a few are called on the teacher’s behalf to show what a good person he or she really is and why termination is inappropriate.”
The main goal of witnesses at a hearing, Keating said, is to convince the judge/jury that the school board either violated the technical termination procedure and/or that the board abused its descretion in terminating a teacher.
“I’ve always found the second approach [that the board abused its descretion] more interesting,” said Keating, “because the teacher is, in essence, trying to get someone else to substitute their judgement for the board’s, so it tends to end up being more of an emotional plea than a legal argument.”
Although the Ohio Department of Education provides school districts and the teacher requesting the hearing with a list of names of potential hearing referees, it does not “track” the proceedings and is not always notified of the hearing outcome, according to ODE press secretary Scott Blake. Blake also said ODE does not automatically revoke a teacher’s certification or license based on the termination of a teaching contract. The only automatic revocations, he said, are for criminal convictions.