Pierce teacher wins wrongful termination case
A new teacher dismissed halfway through the 2006-07 school year — after the school board president complained his child hadn't learned anything in her class — has won a state court ruling that voids her firing.
Sarah Achene, who taught at Pierce High School in Arbuckle, challenged her dismissal and the 3rd Appellate District ruled the Pierce Joint Unified School District failed to follow state law.
A first-year teacher has the right to a written notice of deficiencies and the chance to correct them before being dismissed, the Sacramento-based court said in its Aug. 13 ruling.
It affirms a decision by the Colusa County Superior Court.
"Achene was not given a timely written notice of unsatisfactory performance or an opportunity to correct the specified deficiencies," the court said.
The state court ruling also refers to the school principal telling Achene that the reasons for her dismissal included then-school board president Abel Gomez complaining about Achene's performance.
"I was just quoting what my daughter told me," Gomez, 47, said Thursday.
"I was speaking as a parent — not as a school board president," Gomez said.
Principal Doug Kaelin also told Achene that her dismissal was due to her academics not being high enough for seniors, according to the court ruling.
Attorney Erin Holbrook, representing Pierce Joint Unified, said that the school district will likely appeal the ruling, but that decision has not been made.
Superintendent Patricia Hamilton, as well as current school board president Nadine High, said they cannot comment on personnel matters. Kaelin could not be reached for comment.
The Pierce school district hired Achene, who has a bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology and a master's in information and communication studies, to teach English for the 2006-07 school year, according to the court ruling.
She was hired about two months after receiving her teaching credential. Robert Chaplin, the head of the school's English department, mentored Achene and described her teaching as "pretty good."
Achene was dismissed in January 2007 when the school district cited her unsatisfactory performance.
The state court ruling, noting Kaelin's assessment of Achne, wrote: "Nothing in that report notified Achene that her performance was unsatisfactory or that she would be dismissed if she did not make the recommended refinements."
Achene asked for a hearing before the Board of Trustees, which found against her, and in an order Gomez signed, dismissed the teacher.
She is to receive wages and benefits through the end of the 2006-07 school year, the state court ruled.