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Fired teacher suing board

Former Halifax County Public Schools Motorsports Academy instructor William C. “Buddy” Wilborn, terminated from his position June 2 for “alleged insubordination and unprofessionalism,” has filed suit against the Halifax County School Board.

Wilborn is seeking reinstatement of his contract as a teacher and awarding of back pay plus associated costs with the filing of the civil suit, which was filed Monday in Halifax County Circuit Court.

The suit alleges Wilborn was denied due process of law as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“Neither the Code of Virginia, as amended, nor any regulations adopted by the Board of Education of Virginia provided a sufficient framework to guarantee due process rights of the Defendant as a tenured teacher facing termination, in that they do not set standards for receipt of evidence, define burdens of proof, secure proper confrontation of witnesses or provide for conduct of the proceedings in an orderly fashion,” the suit reads.

Wilborn was denied the right to directly cross-examine the witnesses against him, by ruling of the hearing officer during a May 13 hearing requested by Wilborn in an appeal of the recommendation for termination by Halifax County Public Schools Superintendent Merle Herndon, the suit alleges.

“The hearing officer in this case did not reside outside the school division, nor was he, given his
retired status with the Division and current status as its designated hearing officer, from ‘outside the school division,’ as it is meant in Code Section 22.1-311.B,” according to the suit.

The suit alleges “the hearing officer in this case was not impartial, as evidenced by his ruling, that under the laws of Virginia ‘the school board should prevail in matters of evaluation, assignment and termination,’ and that Plaintiff should be terminated because hearing officer ‘noted no material or underlying wrongs on the part of the administration.’”

In alleging breach of contract, the suit refers to the Code of Virginia, which states “tenured public school teachers may be dismissed for incompetency, immorality, noncompliance with school laws and regulations, disability, conviction of a felony or and crime of moral turpitude, or other good and just cause.”

“Judging by the findings of the hearing officer, the Defendant apparently based its decision to terminate the Plaintiff because of a single unsatisfactory classroom evaluation made on March 6, 2014 and his unavailability for a teacher improvement conference on April 7, 2014, a day for which he had applied for family leave.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Valdivia Marshall notified Wilborn on April 23 that he was being recommended by Herndon for termination of employment, and that he had five business days to request a hearing on the matter, according to the suit.

Marshall wrote a letter to Wilborn on April 28 informing him that his dismissal was being sought for “alleged insubordination and unprofessionalism,” and on April 25, Wilborn requested a hearing be held on his termination.

The suit refers to legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2013 that amended state code and replaced the three-person fact finding panel procedure formerly used in teacher termination hearings, adopting a procedure that gives Virginia school boards the power to decide whether or not termination hearings would be conducted by the school board itself or by a “hearing officer appointed by the school board.”

State Code was amended to read such a hearing be held within 15 days of the hearing request but amended code did not address procedural requirements for the conduct of the hearing other than a specification that the hearing can be public or private, at “the teacher’s option,” and that he or she “may appear with or without representative and be heard, presenting testimony of witnesses and other evidence.”

The Virginia Board of Education has not adopted revisions of the Virginia Code of Regulations reflecting changes to procedures used in teacher termination hearings, according to the suit.

“The regulations governing the three-person fact-finding panel mandated a structured procedure for the conduct of the termination hearings, including the right to cross-examine witnesses,” the suit continues.

The fact-finding hearing for Wilborn was held on May 13, 18 days after Wilborn notified the school board of his desire for a hearing, the suit alleges.

“At the beginning of that hearing, the hearing officer announced that there would be no cross-examination of the witnesses, and that if the Plaintiff had any questions he should ask the hearing examiner,” the suit alleges.

A copy of the suit was mailed to School Board Chairman Kimberly T. Farson on June 9. However, Farson is out of the country, according to Halifax County School Board Vice-Chairman R. K. “Dick” Stoneman.

The school board has 21 days to reply to the suit from the date it was filed, according to Wilborn’s attorney, John E. Greenbacker.

When contacted about the civil suit Tuesday morning, Halifax County Public School Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon confirmed school board members did not discuss the suit during a closed session following Monday night’s meeting of the Halifax County School Board. 

Stoneman also said “to his knowledge,” the lawsuit was not discussed during the closed session meeting Monday night.