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No Error in the Termination of a School Principal

In Burch-Clay v. Debra J. Taylor, Individually and In Her Capacity as Superintendent of Schools, Rutland Central Supervisory Union, 2015 VT 110 (August 21, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court rejected a school principal’s claims that error and bias invalidated the termination of her employment.

Issue: Whether certain alleged procedural defects in Plaintiff principal’s post-termination hearing amounted to a denial of due process, and whether the school board had sufficient and just cause to terminate Plaintiff.

Holding: The Court affirmed the Board’s decision to terminate Plaintiff, finding: (1) no violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, because the APA applies only to state agencies, not to school boards; (2) no violation of Vermont’s open-meeting law, because an email between Board members containing information for the next meeting does not itself fall under the category of a “meeting” that must be open; (3) no evidence of bias, because the fact that the Board both initiated the termination and adjudicated the grounds for the termination, without more, was not evidence of improper bias (and in fact, the Board playing this dual role is set out by statute in 16 V.S.A. § 243(d), under which Plaintiff brought her due process challenge; (4) no impermissible conflict of interest in the Board defending itself against a related open-meetings suit brought by parents, because the suit was withdrawn before the post-termination hearing was commenced; (5) no deprivation of a fair and impartial hearing, despite the fact that the Board chair presided over the hearing and acted as a witness therein, because Board chair recused himself from the final adjudication; (6) no abuse of discretion by the Board in excluding an email Plaintiff argued was probative of the Board’s improper motives, because the email did not actually demonstrate bias, and Plaintiff was not prejudiced by its exclusion; and (7) the Board had just and sufficient cause to terminate because it had evidence of performance problems and insubordination, and it gave her fair notice that her conduct could result in termination.

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