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Jasper Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Cooper

Supreme Court of Arkansas

September 25, 2014

JASPER SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 OF NEWTON COUNTY; KERRY SAYLORS, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE JASPER SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND WANDA MANN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HER CAPACITY AS ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT OF THE JASPER SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANTS
v.
ANITA COOPER, APPELLEE

APPEAL fro THE JOHNSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CV-2012-34. HONORABLE WILLIAM M. PEARSON, JUDGE.

Thompson and Llewellyn, P.A., by: William P. Thompson and James M. Llewellyn, Jr., for appellants.

Clark Law Firm PLLC, by: Suzanne G. Clark, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 12

JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, Associate Justice.

Prior to being fired, Anita Cooper had been employed as principal of the Oark, Arkansas schools. Cooper brought suit against appellants Jasper School District No. 1 of Newton County (District) and Kerry Saylors, individually, and in his capacity as a superintendent of the District. In her complaint, Cooper asserted in part that appellants had failed to comply with the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA) and had failed to provide her with due process. The circuit court reinstated Cooper to her job as principal, awarded her $64,998 in damages, and found Saylors was individually liable. On appeal, the District and Saylors raise three issues. Appellants first

Page 13

argue that the circuit court erred in finding that there was not substantial compliance with the TFDA. Second, appellants argue that the circuit court erred in finding Cooper had a property right in her position as principal of the Oark schools. Third, appellants argue that the circuit court's award to Cooper was excessive and amounted to an award of " double retirement." We affirm.

Cooper was a twenty-nine-year employee in the Oark schools. The Oark schools were annexed by the District in 2004. In 2009, Cooper became the principal of all Oark schools. On February 28, 2011, Cooper signed a " Teacher's Contract" with the District for the period of July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, in which she agreed to " perform services" as " K-12 Principal, Oark." Under the contract provision labeled " OTHER CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT," the contract further provided, " This contract is contingent upon the teacher having a valid teaching license. Other duties as assigned by the administration."

On August 26, 2011, Cooper submitted a grievance claiming she was denied the right to create a master schedule for classes to be offered at Oark and that she was " written up" by the assistant superintendent, Wanda Mann. On August 29, 2011, Saylors wrote Cooper a letter that noted he had met with her on August 22, 2011, to address matters that included, among other concerns, " irregularities in the Oark master schedule." Saylors wrote, " I expect to see improvement in your leadership of the Oark campus. Failure to do so may result in further disciplinary actions which could be reassignment of duties or termination of your contract with the Jasper School District."

Following a meeting of the District's Board of Directors (Board), on September 9, 2011, Cooper was removed from her duties as principal of Oark schools and assigned to a school campus in Kingston, Arkansas, where she was to serve as the principal of in-school suspensions. On September 27, 2011, Saylors responded in writing to Cooper's grievance, stating that it was not valid. Saylors also notified Cooper in writing that she was suspended with pay and that he would recommend to the Board that her employment contract be terminated. In his notice, Saylors listed nine reasons as bases for the termination:

1. The Oark master schedule failed to reflect all 38 units required by standards and assurances in that the following units were not present: (a) civics/American government, (b) transitions math;
2. Oark high school failed to have a minimum of one student enrolled in the following classes: (a) performing arts, (b) transitions math, and (c) dc3 and dc4;
3. Six of seven Oark seniors were not enrolled in the required classes to fulfill their curriculum requirements for smart core curriculum or to be eligible for graduation;
4. Two students were enrolled as juniors and only had credits for sophomore standing;
5. Students were not correctly entered in APSCN to reflect signed ...

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