Teacher files suit vs. D50
Nov. 27 filing names superintendent, assistant superintendent
Thursday, December 06, 2012 2:27 PM
Greenwood County School District 50 and two of its superintendents are the subjects of a lawsuit from a former elementary school teacher that claims her contractual and constitutional rights were violated when she was fired from the district.
In her lawsuit, third-grade teacher Townsend Kirkland accuses the district, Superintendent Darrell Johnson and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Randy Vaughn of breach of contract, violation of right to free speech, violation of procedural due process, slander and invasion of privacy, among others.
The suit was filed Nov. 27 with the court of common pleas of the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
A statement from the district said another complaint was filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging race discrimination.
Kirkland taught at Woodfields Elementary School until June 2012 when her employment was terminated. She started teaching at Woodfields in August 2010, and she was named the district's First Year Teacher of the Year for 2010-11.
According to the suit, Kirkland was called to Vaughn's office May 17 regarding posts about a student's work the district discovered on her Facebook page.
The district said Kirkland posted a student's work "in a way that would have embarrassed the student," and negative comments were made on her page about the student.
The lawsuit said Kirkland was "maliciously accused of participating in a racist and/or racially motivated incident." It went on to say the district accused her of purposely trying to humiliate and degrade the child. The suit said the post didn't include any information about the student's identity or race.Kirkland was encouraged to write an apology letter. The suit said she did respond to Vaughn's "continuing, badgering questioning," and she did not mean to harm the district and was not aware of any racial implications.
The district statement, signed by board chairman Shell Dula, said the teacher's postings were inappropriate.
"A student's educational records are confidential under federal law and district policy," it read. "Our district provides training to our teachers on the importance of preserving student confidentiality. Most importantly, as educators, our paramount concern always must be the well-being of our students."
During the May 17 meeting, the lawsuit said Kirkland was suspended indefinitely until a decision was made about her employment. The lawsuit said she was not informed of her right to request a suspension hearing before the Board of Trustees. It said she wrote three requests for a suspension hearing, but her requests were ignored and denied.
At the end of May, Kirkland received a letter from Johnson saying he would recommend termination of her employment to the Board of Trustees. The board approved his suggestion during a June meeting.
The lawsuit also alleges Johnson did not provide a justification of her termination and refused her requests to provide a specific handbook or statutory provision she violated.
The lawsuit said Kirkland is entitled to an evidentiary hearing before the Board of Trustees regarding the decision to terminate her employment. The lawsuit said Johnson "willfully and without justification whatsoever refused to schedule a full evidentiary hearing before the Greenwood County Board of Trustees."
The lawsuit said Kirkland was offered an informal hearing where Johnson would determine which witnesses and evidence he would accept. The lawsuit said a teacher is permitted to provide any information, testimony or witnesses necessary in a hearing.
According to the district's release, Kirkland was offered an evidentiary hearing and a request to appeal to the school board. The release said she requested the hearing, but then canceled it.
The district said the teacher was let go because of serious concerns of the Facebook posting.
"In doing so, the district and its administration did not discriminate against Ms. Kirkland because of her race, which is white, and did not deny or violate any of her legal rights," the statement said.
The educator's lawsuit also alleges Kirkland's name and reason for her termination were discussed with staff at Springfield Elementary School in May, and a file folder of her work was "improperly and illegally retained by school personnel, despite numerous requests by the Plaintiff for the return of her personal work product."
Finally, the suit said Kirkland was also accused of participating in a racist incident and brought up "deep seeded issues from Dr. Johnson's childhood."
Greenwood 50 said many of the lawsuit's statements are inaccurate.
"The district intends to contest this case vigorously, and we are confident that the district's actions were completely appropriate and in the best interests of our students," it said.
Kirkland seeks compensatory damages from the district and the two superintendents, back pay and benefits and reinstatement as a Greenwood 50 teacher, among other things.
Calls to Kirkland's attorney, Greenville-based Scarlet Moore, were not returned.