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Tenured Teacher Prevails On Claim that District Cannot Unilaterally Dismiss Charges

On June 25, 2012, in Boliou v. Stockton Unified School District, an appeals court ruled that once a school district schedules a termination hearing against a tenured teacher, it cannot unilaterally rescind the dismissal charges and thereby avoid paying the teacher’s attorneys’ fees and costs. The district is required to conclude the proceedings only as provided by statute, with the Commission on Professional Competence rendering a decision.

Stockton Unified filed an accusation against tenured teacher Mr. Boliou, specifying conduct it claimed merited his dismissal. He denied the conduct and demanded a hearing, which the district scheduled. After 18 months of vigorous litigation and some unfavorable rulings, the district moved to dismiss the charges. Boliou objected and demanded a ruling from the Commission that he should not be dismissed from his employment. This would entitle him to reasonable attorney fees and costs under Education Code §44944(e)(2). The Commission granted the district’s motion to dismiss the charges.

Boliou then went to court, and a judge granted his Petition for Writ of Administrative Mandamus, ordering the Commission to modify its dismissal order to include an express determination that Boliou should not be dismissed. The court also ordered the district to pay Boliou’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

The district appealed, and the appellate court upheld the writ. Even though no evidence was taken, the Commission was bound to conduct the hearing, once scheduled. Given the district’s dismissal of all charges against Boliou, the court found the only appropriate disposition was a finding that Boliou “should not be dismissed or suspended.” Once the Commission entered that finding, Boliou was also entitled to his reasonable attorney fees and costs.

California Education Code §44941, §44943, and §44944(a) provide that if a teacher demands a hearing on disciplinary charges and the governing board of the school district exercises its option to schedule a hearing instead of rescinding the charges, “the hearing shall be commenced …” Further, pursuant to §44944(b) and (c)(1), the hearing must be conducted, and “the commission shall prepare a written decision containing … a disposition that shall be, solely, one of the following: (A) That the employee should be dismissed; (B) That the employee should be suspended for a specific period of time without pay; (C) That the employee should not be dismissed or suspended.”

Accordingly, a district’s sole opportunity to rescind the charges is when it notifies the teacher of the charges and s/he demands a hearing. The Education Code’s comprehensive statutory scheme does not permit the district to stop the proceeding simply by dismissing the charges. The court concluded: “Regardless of whether the hearing proceeds with or without taking evidence on the merits of the charges, the statutory scheme makes clear what the commission is required to do.”