Court Upholds Dismissal of Teacher Whose Excessive Absences Negatively Impacted Students and Colleagues

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Jul 08, 2024

John Sandy Campbell worked as a resource specialist teacher from 2015 to 2017 at the Chavez Social Justice Humanitas Academy, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Campbell developed individualized education programs for students with special needs. The District dismissed Campbell in 2017 because she was excessively absent, among other things, which negatively affected students and staff. During Campbell’s two years of employment at the District, she was absent 52 days and partially absent or tardy 97 days.

Campbell appealed her dismissal to the Commission on Professional Competence (the Commission), which held an 11-day administrative hearing. The Commission upheld the District’s decision to dismiss Campbell. Campbell appealed the Commission’s decision by filing a petition for writ of mandate in superior court. The trial court denied Campbell’s petition and upheld her dismissal. Campbell then appealed to the appellate court.

On appeal, Campbell argued that (1) the Commission miscited the law and applied the wrong statutory subdivisions at her dismissal hearing, (2) there was not sufficient evidence for her dismissal, and (3) the court failed to apply “new” precedent when determining her fitness to teach.

First, the District conceded and the courts recognized that the Commission cited the incorrect subdivisions of Education code section 44932. However, the court of appeal held that Campbell had failed to establish error and the trial court properly addressed and dismissed the issue. The Commission had accurately listed, by name, the correct section 44932 causes for Campbell’s dismissal in its legal conclusions: unprofessional conduct, evident unfitness for service, and persistent violations of school rules. The Commission thus adequately informed Campbell of the bases for her dismissal. The court of appeal also noted that Campbell identified the correct statutory bases for her dismissal in her writ petition.

The court of appeal then addressed Campbell’s argument that there was insufficient evidence to support her dismissal. The court of appeal explained that to prevail on a sufficiency of the evidence argument, litigants must include in their opening brief all the material evidence on the disputed elements in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Litigants must then persuade the court that the evidence cannot reasonably support the result. Campbell did not include the evidence at the administrative hearing in her brief and did not present the evidence in the light most favorable to the District. The court of appeal therefor rejected Campbell’s insufficiency challenge. The court of appeal also noted that the District pointed out the deficiencies in Campbell’s opening brief, yet she elected not to reply.

Finally, Campbell argued that a more recent case San Dieguito, said that numbers of absences were not determinative to support a dismissal. The trial court had held that San Dieguito could be distinguished, because in San Dieguito, both partied had agreed that the teacher’s absences were for reasons considered legitimate under district policy. Additionally, Campbell had received many directives regarding attendance and substantiation, while the teacher in San Dieguito had not. The court of appeal also pointed out that the trial court did not uphold Campbell’s dismissal solely on the number of absences. The trial court had observed that Campbell’s poor attendance had a negative impact on students and burdened her coworkers. The trial court also pointed out that the “sheer magnitude” of Campbell’s “collective failures” set her apart from other teachers and that she “treated her position as a part-time job.”

The court of appeal held that Campbell had failed to demonstrate that the trial court’s decision was in error. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment and awarded costs to the District.

Campbell v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2024) 102 Cal.App.5th 156.

Note: The May edition of Ed Matters summarized a case involving the same parties. In that case, the court of appeal dismissed Campbell’s claim that the District discriminated and retaliated against her by terminating her employment.

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