Chattanooga: Former special education teacher to appeal firing

Chattanooga: Former special education teacher to appeal firing

January 20th, 2011 by Kelli Gauthier in News

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