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Struble v. Blytheville School District

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

February 22, 2017

VEDA ANN STRUBLE APPELLANT
v.
BLYTHEVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE MISSISSIPPI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, CHICKASAWBA DISTRICT [NO. 47BCV-12-199] HONORABLE PAMELA B. HONEYCUTT, JUDGE.

          James W. Harris, for appellant.

          Richard Glassman and James F. Horner Jr., for appellee.

          BART F. VIRDEN, Judge.

         Veda Ann Struble appeals an order from the Mississippi County Circuit Court upholding the Blytheville School District's decision to terminate her contract under the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (ATFDA) and granting summary judgment to Blytheville School District. We find no error, and we affirm.

         I. Facts

         In the spring of 2012, Wesley Freemeyer, a second-grade teacher at Blytheville Primary School, discovered a handwritten letter in the homework folder of a female student in her classroom. In the letter, the student stated that she wished she could see her real mom, that her mother's father touched her where she should not be touched, that she had been touched in her "middle parts, " that her mom's dad was a bad man, and that she had some very bad things in her life. The note ended with the request "can you help me please." Freemeyer gave the note to assistant principal Dee Keiter, who was also present in the classroom. Keiter mentioned the letter to Principal Struble, who admits that she "scanned" the letter but did not read it at that time, and all parties agree that Keiter was told to "handle it." Keiter took the letter and escorted the child back to the office where the child's grandmother was waiting to pick her up because the child had been suspended from school for fighting earlier in the day. Keiter asked the grandmother about the letter, and Keiter testified that the grandmother explained that the abuse had occurred years before when the child was a toddler and that the child had been removed from the abusive household. Later that day, Struble and Keiter met in the vice principal's office, where Struble read the letter and discussed its contents with Keiter, and Keiter relayed to Struble that the child's grandmother had confirmed that the child had been abused. Struble told Keiter to file the letter in the school nurse's file. Both Keiter and Struble were aware that no one had called the child-abuse hotline, and they agreed that there was "no reason to report abuse to the hotline."

         A few weeks later, Rhonda Hodges, the school nurse, found the letter on the counter in the medicine closet, a room that is kept locked and to which only the nurse, the assistant principal, and the principal had keys. Nurse Hodges read the letter and became concerned. She spoke to a supervisor, Freemeyer, and Keiter to ascertain if anyone had called the Child-abuse hotline. When Hodges realized that no one had reported the letter, she called the hotline herself.

         Richard Atwill, Blytheville School District's superintendent, investigated the incident. On May 18, 2012, Atwill notified Struble that she was immediately suspended with pay and that he was recommending termination for her failure to report suspected child abuse, because she had represented to Freemeyer that she would call the hotline and did not do so, and because she failed to maintain the chain of custody of the child's letter.

         On June 18, 2012, the Blytheville School Board (School Board) held a hearing on the matter. After hearing testimony from Superintendent Atwill, Nurse Hodges, Freemeyer, and Assistant Principal Keiter, the School Board found that the reasons set forth by Atwill to terminate Struble's contract were true. The School Board terminated Struble from her position as principal and directed that she be rehired in a non-administrative position as soon as a position for which she was qualified became available.

         Struble appealed the School Board's decision to the circuit court. The School Board filed a motion for summary judgment, which the circuit court granted. The circuit court found that the School Board was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, as there was just and reasonable cause for Struble's termination based on her violation of the Mandated Reporter Statute, her failure to maintain a proper chain of custody of the letter, and her delegation of duty as a mandated reporter.

         Struble filed a timely notice of appeal.

         II. Poi ...


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