July 22, 2008
Sanctions Improperly Imposed On School Principal
In an opinion issued last week, the Supreme Court of Vermont concluded that the State Board of Education had improperly withheld the license of an educator based on unproven allegations. The court described the accusations against a school principal as follows:
J.H. was the principal of St. Johnsbury School during the 2004-2005 school year. In February 2005, she learned that an eighth grade student had received several anonymous death threats. J.H. suspected that a seventh grade student, M.T., either knew about the death threats or was responsible for them. J.H. questioned M.T. about the death threats on numerous occasions, including a two-hour interview in the presence of other adults and uniformed police officers. During this latter interview, J.H. asked M.T. to link pinkies with her across the table, believing that this would help M.T. focus. This “pinky promise” lasted for twenty minutes. The day after the two-hour interview with police, J.H. learned of a “suicide note” that M.T. had written several months earlier, and she decided that M.T. needed a mental health evaluation. J.H. informed M.T. of the upcoming mental health screening, and she then began questioning M.T. again about the death threats. She was overheard yelling at M.T. and using profanity. M.T. apparently confessed during this interview but she later retracted her confession.
Licensing sanctions were deemed improper as the principal had been denied due process. Prior to any suspension, the accused is entitled to notice of the charges and a hearing on the merits. The board had improperly withheld the license of the principal for 14 months and provided no basis for any additional sanctions. (Mike Frisch)
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