published Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Chattanooga: Former special education teacher to appeal firing

by Kelli Gauthier

A former special education teacher will appeal her termination before the school board after being fired for alleged laziness and disorganization.

After Superintendent Jim Scales fired Wendy Tippens, a nontenured teacher, she appealed the decision to a hearing officer, in this case, former Chattanooga City Judge Walter Williams, school system spokeswoman Danielle Clark said.

Williams upheld Scales' decision. Tippens now is taking her case to the full Hamilton County Board of Education, which meets tonight. She was charged with neglect of duty and improper conduct.

"Ms. Tippens failed to maintain the security and integrity of her special education files; that she failed to provide appropriate [Individual Education Plan] services to her special education students; and that she failed to bring her special education files into compliance with [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] regulations," according to documents written by school board attorney Scott Bennett.

"Ms. Tippens' failures exposed the Hamilton County Department of Education to possible sanctions by the State of Tennessee and potential claims for compensation by the parents of her students," Bennett wrote.

But Tippens' lawyer disagreed, saying the former teacher was never given proper training on how to organize special education documents.

Tippens, who was in her third year working for Hamilton County Schools, also had worked previously in Georgia, where special education laws and practices are different, according to a document written by her attorney, Virginia McCoy.

During a negotiation session Tuesday between the school system and the Hamilton County Education Association, members of the teachers' union brought up concerns over what they considered the questionable impartiality of the hearing officers, who all were chosen by Bennett.

When asked if Tippens' case prompted the conversation, HCEA President Sharon Vandagriff said, "I guess it did."

"We do want to make sure whomever serves on that impartial hearing panel is someone who is not biased," she said.

During the negotiation session, Rhonda Catanzaro, a liaison with the Tennessee Education Association, mentioned her own concerns.

"The impartial hearing officers don't appear to be that impartial," she said. "Many have relations with the board attorney, he's appeared in their courtrooms or knows them personally, or [the hearing officer] knows Dr. Scales personally."

Contact Kelli Gauthier at or 423 757-6249. Follow her on Twitter at

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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spktur said...

I do not think a teacher should have to be trained not to be lazy or to keep her records in order. I am just glad she did not coast along long enough to get tenured so she could not be fired. The idea of tenure is a terrible idea anyway. What other profession guarantees your job even if you can not or do not perform just because you have been there for a given numbers of years.

January 20, 2011 at 12:51 p.m.
mpenmark said...

If you don’t think a new teacher needs to be trained to know how to organize Special Education files, then you obliviously have never taught in the field of Special Education. We’re not talking simple organizational skills that filing a few papers can take care of; we’re talking mounds of paperwork, files, protocols, meeting minutes and documentation or EVERYTHING; in triplicate, and usually spanning many years. Many Special Education teachers leave the field because of the ridiculous amount of paperwork. Additionally, there’s a reason the county offers extensive training in this area. If this teacher did not get the training she needed then only the Hamilton County Department of Education is to blame.

January 24, 2011 at 8:36 p.m.
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