Hamilton County school board tables termination appeal

Hamilton County school board tables termination appeal

January 21st, 2011 by Kelli Gauthier in News


Two controversial items failed to make it onto the school board's agenda Thursday:

A motion to discuss the previously tabled issue of one-time bonuses was voted down 5-3. Board member Jeffrey Wilson, who first made the motion to discuss the $400 and $500 bonuses Thursday, said he wanted the board to consider the bonuses at an upcoming work session.

A request by board member David Testerman to begin a search for a new superintendent, more than a year before the current executive's contract expires, also did not make it on the agenda, because Chairman Everett Fairchild said he did not receive the request within the 72-hour time frame outlined in board policy.

A former Chattanooga teacher said she is grateful to the school board for postponing its decision on the appeal of her termination, even though she's waited more than a year for an answer.

After about two hours of listening to debate over whether Wendy Tippens should be reinstated as a special education teacher at Tyner Middle Academy, the Hamilton County Board of Education decided to table its vote until the next regularly scheduled meeting.

"It sounds like for the first time somebody is really listening to what happened," Tippens said after Thursday's meeting. "I feel really good about it. If the board needs that time to get the facts and get the decision right, I just feel really confident they'll make a good decision."

There was much confusion during Thursday night's meeting, partly because of the fact that a house fire destroyed the home of the court reporter who had documented Tippens' first hearing before former Chattanooga City Judge Walter Williams, leaving the board with no transcript of the four-day event. Williams, acting as an impartial hearing officer, upheld Superintendent Jim Scales' decision to fire Tippens, so the educator took her case before the school board.

Tippens, a nontenured teacher who had just begun her third year of teaching in Hamilton County in 2009, was accused by the school system administration of neglect of duty and improper conduct.

In the findings of fact presented by attorneys for the school board and Tippens -- some of the only remaining documentation in the case -- the administration accuses Tippens of improperly securing her confidential special education documents, which led to several being forged, and opening the school system up to potential liability, they said.

Tippens' defense, handled by Tennessee Education Association attorney Virginia McCoy, maintained that the teacher never received proper training to know how special education documentation is handled in Hamilton County.

McCoy also brought into question the impartiality of Williams, whom she said she learned after he denied Tippens' appeal, belongs to the same fraternity as Scales.

"I don't know if he was influenced by bias or not, but my client got a hearing officer who is a frat brother of the director of schools," she said.

After first making a motion to give Tippens back her job, board member David Testerman then suggested tabling the motion until the next board meeting. There was concern among some board members whether rehiring Tippens would immediately grant her tenure, since she was dismissed in her third year of teaching.

Instead, several agreed that she should be given an improvement plan and a chance to prove she could get better.

Board member Rhonda Thurman said members would figure out the answer to the tenure question and vote again on the appeal next month.

Contact Kelli Gauthier at kgauthier@timesfreepress.com or 423 757-6249.

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