October 1, 2018

Seeking interim relief in the course of a disciplinary action brought pursuant to §3020-a of the Education Law


Seeking interim relief in the course of a disciplinary action brought pursuant to §3020-a of the Education Law
Appeal of Educator, Decisions of the Commission of Education, Decision #17,507

Educator,* a tenured teacher, was suspended by the School Superintendent pending the service of disciplinary charges pursuant to Education Law §3020-a, requested that the Commissioner of Education grant Educator interim relief  in the form of “an immediate stay of [Educator's] suspension” permitting [Educator] to return to teaching.

Educator contended that following the suspension by the Superintendent the appointing authority, the school board [Board], failed to initiate charges at its next regular Board meeting thus violating Educator's tenure rights.  Educator also denied being involved in any in improper conduct and that any potential §3020-a charges would be without merit. Finally Educator asked the Commissioner to direct the Board  to expunge of any mention of the suspension from Educator's personnel file.

The Board asked that Educator's petition be dismissed as, indicating that:

1. It had voted to initiate charges against Educator pursuant to Education Law §3020-a and the Board's attorney had submitted an affidavit asserting that Educator "will be reassigned to duties ... during the pendency of the §3020-a proceeding;" 

2. Educator's personnel record contains no reference to the challenged suspension that could be expunged; and

3. The suspension of Educator by the Superintendent was appropriate because a  reasonable time between suspension and the filing of §3020-a disciplinary charges "is allowed."

Addressing the Educator's seeking the "expungement of the Superintendent’s suspension" from Educator's  personnel record, the Commissioner said such appeal must be dismissed as moot as the Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest.

The Commissioner noted that with respect to Educator's request for interim relief seeking expungement of any mention of the suspension from the date on which it commenced "until the present," the appointing authority answer indicated that no letter, memorandum or other written document referencing Educator's suspension was prepared and placed in Educator's personnel file, which assertions were set out in the Board's verified answer and its attorney’s affirmation. The Commissioner declined to issue an order based on speculation that such a record might exist. 

Considering the alleged suspension of Educator, the Commissioner noted that in a reply affirmation, Educator's attorney acknowledged that the Board has the authority to suspend a tenured teacher such as [Educator] once it has filed §3020-a charges, but claimed that when the Board filed the disciplinary charges against Educator it took no action to suspend Educator and that Educator's continued suspension remained pursuant to actions taken by the Superintendent and thus was "illegal."** 

The Commissioner, citing Education Law §1711(2)(e), commented that the superintendent has statutory authority "to suspend ... [a] teacher or other employee until the next regular meeting of such board, when all facts relating to the case shall be submitted to such board for its consideration and action." Accordingly, said the Commissioner, "A suspension by a superintendent that extends beyond the next regular meeting of the board of education would be ultra vires."***

However, although the reply affirmation alleges that appointing authority did not take action to suspend Educator, Educator had not provided any evidence to corroborate that allegation.  The Commissioner said that she could not determine whether the appointing authority had taken any action on another date to suspend Educator with pay until a final resolution of the §3020-a proceeding.
 
Declining to order Educator's reinstatement "under these circumstances," the Commissioner observed that should Educator wish to continue to challenge the suspension, Educator's  recourse is to bring another appeal in an appropriate forum in which both parties would have a full and fair opportunity to address the legality of the suspension of the Educator after §3020-a charges were served upon him or her.

The Commissioner also explained that to the extent Educator seeks to challenge the merits of the suspension linked to a pending §3020-a proceeding, Educator's  claims must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The Commissioner explained that Education Law §3020-a, as amended by Chapter 691 of the Laws of 1994, divested the Commissioner of jurisdiction to review §3020-a determinations of hearing officers, both final and non-final, implying that the issue of whether Educator was lawfully suspended by the Board was a matter for the §3020-a hearing officer[s] to determine .

For these reasons the Commissioner ruled that Educator's appeal to the Commissioner must be dismissed.

* As this disciplinary action pursuant to Education Law §3020-a is currently pending and it has not be determined whether any eventual hearing will be public or private, the individual upon whom the disciplinary charges were filed is herein identified as “Educator” to preserve his or her confidentiality.

** Addressing a procedural issue, the Commissioner’s regulations do not contemplate submission of a reply affidavit or affirmation in lieu of a reply, as Educator has done in this proceeding. However the Commissioner said that she "nevertheless accepted it for consideration in this appeal, noting that the reply affidavit is in the nature of a reply, as it responded to the appointing authority's affirmative defenses.

*** An action in excess of the authority or power possessed by an entity or an official or officer of that entity.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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