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Lovell v. Hope School District

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

July 15, 2019




         Before the Court is an Amended Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Hope School District (“Hope”). ECF No. 26. Plaintiff Mary Lovell, representing herself in this action, has filed a response (ECF No. 42) and amended response (ECF No. 44) in opposition to Hope's motion.[1] Hope has filed a reply. ECF No. 46. The motion is ripe for the Court's consideration. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Hope's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that Lovell has failed to file, pursuant to Local Rule 56.1(b), a statement of the material facts as to which she contends a genuine issue exists to be tried. Therefore, the facts as set forth by Hope in its Statement of Facts Not in Dispute (ECF No. 27) are deemed admitted and are the undisputed facts of this case for purposes of this motion. See U.S. Dist. Ct. Rules Ark., LR 56.1 (b)-(c) (“All material facts set forth in the statement filed by the moving party . . . shall be deemed admitted unless controverted by the statement filed by the non-moving party.”).

         Lovell is a 75-year-old black female[2] who began working for Hope as a teacher at Yerger Middle School in 2002. During the 2016-2017 school year, Lovell was assigned to teach only Literacy Navigator classes. Literacy Navigator is a curriculum program designed to give additional support to students whose reading comprehension is below grade level. Literacy Navigator is a teacher-led program and teachers are provided a script to follow each day. The script is not designed to be modified by the teacher. Literacy Navigator intends for all students to work at the same pace and to follow the same schedule. Carla Narlesky, the school improvement specialist, trained Lovell on the components of Literacy Navigator.

         In October 2016, Narlesky modeled a Literacy Navigator lesson in Lovell's class and instructed her to teach one lesson per day, to have the students complete one lesson per day, and not to have the students work at their own pace. In November 2016, Josclyn Wiley, Yerger's principal, observed Lovell and noticed that she taught from her own “note sheet, ” her students were not on task, and she was unprepared for class. Wiley directed Lovell to teach from the Literacy Navigator manual as scripted and to complete one lesson per day without changes to the curriculum. Wiley warned Lovell via letter that if Lovell disregarded the directives, further disciplinary action could be taken against her, including termination or non-renewal of her contract.

         After Principal Wiley's observation, Assistant Superintendent Portia Jones observed Lovell's classroom and noted that students were disorderly, classroom procedures were lacking, and Lovell's instructional procedures were ineffective. Based on Jones's observations, Wiley instructed Lovell to establish classroom processes and procedures that would aid students in becoming engaged and would minimize off-task behaviors. Wiley again noted in a letter to Lovell that disregarding the directives could lead to further disciplinary action. Lovell responded by letter, stating that Wiley's letter was a “false acclimation” of her professional character.

         In November 2016, Narlesky, the school improvement specialist, observed Lovell's classroom and determined that she was not implementing Literacy Navigator as instructed. Narlesky noted that students were working independently in their workbooks and that Lovell was not teaching the lesson to the students as directed. She further noted that Lovell was providing the students with notes that were aiding the students in working independently at their own pace. In a letter to Lovell dated November 17, 2016, Narlesky directed that Lovell stop providing students with notes; that she complete the lessons as scripted by the teacher's manual; and that she work with students as directed by the Literacy Navigator script. Narlesky warned Lovell that failure to follow the directives could lead to further disciplinary action.

         Lovell testified in her deposition that she could not use a single script for every class and that she believed her lesson plans, note sheets, and student agendas[3] were superior to the Literacy Navigator script. On November 29, 2016, Superintendent Bobby Hart and Principal Wiley met with Lovell regarding concerns about her classroom performance and the implementation of Literacy Navigator. Hart followed up the meeting with a memo in which he directed Lovell to follow the protocols of the Literacy Navigator program and to implement and carry out Wiley's directives.

         Also, on November 29, 2016, Wiley and Michelle Bittle, Yerger's assistant principal, had a pre-observation conference with Lovell in which they expressed their concerns regarding Lovell's teaching methods. Wiley noted that Lovell had failed to complete the pre-observation questions prior to the conference and directed her to complete the questions by the end of the following day. Wiley also recommended that Lovell complete a micro-credential, an exercise requiring Lovell to complete a written assignment and to video a lesson she taught.[4] On November 30, 2016, Narlesky observed Lovell's classroom and found that the students were completing lessons out of order, were working at their own pace, talking over Lovell, and laughing at another student's work. After the observation, Narlesky concluded that Lovell's students had received little or no academic instruction from Lovell during that semester.

         In January 2017, Bittle created an intensive growth plan for Lovell. Bittle presented the plan to Lovell, identifying specific goals and actions that she should take to achieve these goals. On January 27, 2017, Wiley notified Lovell that she had not completed the micro-credential. Lovell's explanation for not completing the assignment was that she could not log in to the system for submitting the micro-credential. Wiley noted that Lovell never asked for help regarding her login problem, but Wiley nevertheless extended the deadline for submitting the assignment to February 6, 2017.

         After observing Lovell's class on February 2, 2017, Narlesky noted that Lovell did not teach Literacy Navigator that day, that the lessons were not being completed in order, and that some lessons had been skipped. Lovell explained that because the students had not followed the “one lesson per day” pace of Literacy Navigator during the Fall semester, they were having to catch up during the Spring semester.

         On February 8, 2017, Wiley delivered a memorandum to Lovell regarding her failure to complete the micro-credential. Wiley offered another extension of time to complete the micro-credential and stated that failure to complete it by February 16, 2017, could result in further disciplinary action, including but not limited to termination or non-renewal of her contract. On February 12, 2017, Lovell submitted a document that she referred to as a “report on micro-credentialing approach.” She never submitted a video of herself teaching and thus never properly completed the micro-credential.

         On February 13, 2017, Bittle observed Lovell's classroom and noted that Lovell was still not teaching Literacy Navigator according to the script and schedule. Further, Lovell's students had not completed a post-test as required by the curriculum.

         When Lovell was asked if she allowed the students to work independently at their own pace, she responded that the students who caught on faster worked ahead and the students who worked slower fell behind. Of the twenty-three to thirty students Lovell taught each class period, she estimated that four or five students from each class period were completing one lesson per day as required by the curriculum. She estimated that the other students were completing an average of one or two lessons per week. Lovell also noted that three or four students from each class period were special education students who could not complete one lesson per day but could do enough partial work to “pass.” Narlesky reviewed Lovell's students' workbooks and estimated that eighty-five percent of the workbooks were incomplete.

         On February 23, 2017, Hart delivered a letter to Lovell, notifying her that he intended to recommend non-renewal of her contract. The listed reasons for the recommended non-renewal were poor performance, failure to comply with the written directives of supervisors, failure to otherwise perform the tasks required of Lovell's position, and failure to participate in the improvement process. Hart stated that, during the 2016-2017 school year, Lovell did not show improvement in her classroom instruction, continued to refuse assistance from Wiley and other ...

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