The First District Court of Appeals today affirmed a decision by a trial court to reinstate a teacher who was terminated by his board of education under R.C. 3319.16 for "good and just cause" for alleging throwing a basketball at a student. That court, however, also found that the teacher was not entitled to attorney fees because his district did not act in bad faith.
The case involved a physical education/health teacher who had 20 years experience. Throughout his tenure, he had received positive reviews and had eight consecutive years of perfect attendance. In his evaluations, the teacher was specifically complimented on his (1) "strong discipline"; (2) his "professional manner"; (3) having "full control of * * * his classes"; (4) his "classroom management"; (5) his "professional manner structure and organization"; (6) the fact that "safety is stressed in both health and PE"; (7) being a "good role model"; and (8) being a "true professional who is a great role model for the students."
In June 2007, a male student athlete who stood six feet seven inches left the teacher's class without permission and began "shooting hoops" in the gymnasium. The teacher found the student and instructed him to go to the locker room to change clothes and then to attend his next class. The teacher had to instruct this student three times before the student complied. The student changed in the locker room, but instead of going to his next class, he went back to the gym to play basketball. The teacher again instructed the student, at least five or six times, not to shoot the basketball and to leave the court. When the student refused to comply with the instructions, the teacher, "with a two-hand push" of his own basketball, knocked the basketball the student was holding out of the student's hands in an effort to get him to leave the court. The student was angry and approached the teacher, but another teacher escorted the student from the gymnasium. The student was not injured.
Although the student claimed that he had been hit in the stomach, another student who had witnessed the incident stated that the ball that the teacher had thrown hit the basketball in the student's hands. The teacher was suspended indefinitely without pay.
The male student's mother initiated criminal proceedings against the teacher. The state charged him with assault, but he was acquitted following the presentation of the state's case due to the failure to prove that he had knowingly caused or attempted to cause physical harm to the student. The student had testified that the teacher had not thrown the ball "very hard" at him and that he had not believed that the teacher intended to harm him. He further testified that he had not been injured.
As a result of this incident, the Board initiated termination proceedings against the teacher. After hearing evidence, a referee determined that the teacher had not intended to throw a basketball at the student and that there was a difference between throwing a ball at a student and throwing a ball at an object the student was holding. The referee recommended reinstatement.
The Board of Education, however, terminated the teacher's contract, not agreeing with the referee's distinction between throwing a ball at a student and throwing a ball at an object a student was holding. The teacher appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, who agreed with the referee, that the incident was not a "fairly serious matter." The Court also awarded the teacher all of his attorney fees.
The Board of Education appealed. The Court of Appeals agreed that the incident was not a "fairly serious matter" but disagreed with the trial court that the board acted in bad faith. Thus, it upheld the teacher's reinstatement, but denied his attorney fees.
The case is Stalder v. St. Bernard-Elmwood Place City School District, 2010-Ohio-2363.