Third District: State Can’t Suspend License of Hammer Wielding Teacher
Ohio’s State Board of Education can sanction, but not suspend, the teaching license of a Shelby County woman who ran her husband’s ex-wife off the road and smashed her car windows, an Ohio appeals court ruled.
The Third District Court of Appeals affirmed a Shelby County Common Pleas Court ruling that the state board could not demonstrate a link between the car vandalism and the ability of Kimberly K. Wall to work with elementary school students. The April 13 appellate court ruling found it was appropriate for the board to accept a hearing officer’s recommendation to “admonish” Wall for the incident.
In November 2011, Wall was an adjunct instructor for reading and first-year student success at Sinclair Community College, and at the time held a five-year professional teaching license from the state. A domestic dispute led Wall to follow her husband’s ex-wife after she left Wall’s house. Wall forced the woman’s vehicle off the road, then smashed her driver’s side window with a hammer and dented the front and rear sides of the vehicle.
Prosecutors charged Wall in Shelby Municipal Court with criminal damaging and unlawful restraint, but she pled guilty in March 2012 to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail with five days suspended, a $75 fine, and counseling. The Ohio Department of Education received notice of the violation and conducted a hearing “to determine whether to limit, suspend, revoke or permanently revoke” her teaching license.
A state hearing officer concluded Wall’s action constituted conduct unbecoming of a teacher, a violation of R.C. 3319.31(B)(1), and recommended the state school board issue her a letter of admonishment because there was “no nexus” between her conviction and future employment as a teacher.
The department objected to the recommendations, and the state school board amended the hearing officer’s recommendation at a January 2014 meeting. It decided instead to suspend the remaining 18 months of Wall’s license and required she complete a forensic fitness to teach evaluation by a licensed psychologist if she wanted to be reinstated. Wall appealed the board’s decision to a Shelby County Common Pleas Court, which sided with the hearing officer’s letter of admonishment, and ruled the board’s decision was not based on “reliable, probative, and substantial evidence that there was a nexus between Wall’s conduct and her ability to perform as a teacher.”
The state board appealed that ruling to the Third District, arguing the state law does spell out a requirement that there must be a relationship between the conduct of the teacher and the ability to teach in order to revoke the license. Meanwhile, Wall had sought payment of her attorney fees by the state after the trial court sided with her, but the court rejected payment. Wall appealed that portion of the decision to the Third District.
Writing for the appellate court, Judge Vernon L. Preston wrote while the law is not explicit, the Third District has previously ruled in 2002 Freisthler v. State Bd. Of Edn., that the wording of the statute implies the conduct at issue must some way affect the ability to teach.
“However, in its resolution suspending Wall’s license, the board specifically rejected the department hearing officer’s conclusion that there is no nexus between Wall’s conduct and her future employment as a teacher. Yet, the board did not replace the rejected hearing officer’s finding with any finding of its own establishing a nexus between Wall’s conduct and her performance as a teacher,” Judge Preston wrote.
The appellate court noted the offense did not involve children, did not occur during school hours, and was not on school grounds. Judge Preston also explained there was no evidence Wall’s students knew of the incident, and a counselor testifying on Wall’s behalf said the stressors causing the violence were not caused by her interaction with children.
In addressing Wall’s claim for attorney fees, the court clarified that a judge reviewing the request has to determine if the state was substantially justified in “initiating” the process of revoking Wall’s license. Judge Preston wrote that the decision is not based on the board’s insistence to appeal the ruling against it. Because Wall was convicted of a crime, the board was justified in initiating a hearing to consider disciplinary action, and therefore the trial court judge was within his right to deny attorney fees.
Judges Richard M. Rogers and Stephen R. Shaw concurred in the decision.
Wall v. State Bd. of Edn., 2015-Ohio-1418
Civil Appeal From: Shelby County Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: April 13, 2015
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