Teacher firing not an immediate option
A local substitute teacher has been fired after a law enforcement investigation, but two District 51 teachers recently investigated on suspicion of similar improprieties may remain employed with the district and on paid leave for months to come.
Colorado school districts have the right to take substitutes off their rolls without due process. That’s why District 51 was able to cut ties last month with a 25-year-old substitute teacher investigated for allegedly sending sexually suggestive text messages to a 15-year-old Central High School student.
But regular teachers, tenured or not, are owed a hearing to defend their position if fired before the end of a school year, according to state statute.
As a result, it could take months of work and thousands of dollars for District 51 to fire, if it wants to, an unnamed Pear Park Elementary teacher placed on paid leave Monday on suspicion of improper actions involving minors, or Fruita 8-9 teacher Randy Majors.
The district placed Majors on paid leave Nov. 4 and he was arrested Dec. 31 by Fruita police on suspicion of contacting students and former students on Facebook to request nude photos.
The midyear dismissal process for teachers and year-round dismissal process for tenured teachers begins with a superintendent recommending the school board fire a teacher because of incompetency, immorality, neglect of duty, disability, bad job performance, insubordination or conviction of a felony or pleading no contest or taking a guilty plea for a felony.
Within three days of that notice, according to state statute, the superintendent mails notice of the recommendation to the teacher involved. The notice has to include a list of evidence, witnesses and documentation linked to the reason the superintendent wants to fire the teacher.
Notices have not been filed for Majors or the Pear Park teacher, according to David Price, attorney for District 51.
The teacher has five days after getting a notice to request a hearing to try to keep his or her job.
State statute requests the hearing take place within 30 days, but hearings are often scheduled up to six months from the time a teacher requests one.
State statute requires the district to keep paying the teacher for 100 days after the school board gets notification of the start of a dismissal process or until the hearing, whichever comes sooner. The district has to pay costs associated with the hearing, such as the cost of a private judge, if a state judge is not used, and attorney fees.
Hearings end with a judge recommending the teacher remain employed or not. School board members must finalize the decision to keep or end employment, and an appeals process is possible.
District 51 Executive Director of Human Resources Colleen Martin said the district tries to avoid getting to the dismissal phase with teachers through screenings in the hiring process.
Each teacher hired goes through a Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation background check, finger-printing and a lengthy interview and reference check, Martin said. The district also checks items like Facebook pages for signs of potential issues with an applicant.
“We are concerned about employees having moral character, so we ask previous supervisors if there were any concerns,” Martin added.
District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said there are no immediate employee screening or conduct changes proposed for the district, but recent incidents have prompted discussion of that possibility.