AUSTIN (CN) – A school trustee sued the state commissioner of education and her school district, which publicly reprimanded her for reporting to police that she was “what appeared to her to be rifles” in the superintendent’s office. They turned out to be BB guns.
Mrs. Charles Wilson claims the Marshall Independent School District reprimanded her on a trumped-up charge that “characterized (her) presence in the superintendent’s office on school board business as ‘unauthorized access.'” And she says Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott “erred in dismissing her appeal” of the reprimand.
Mrs. Wilson says she saw the guns while she returned a binder of board meeting materials to the superintendent’s office, which is on school grounds.
After seeing “what appeared to her to be rifles or other long guns,” Wilson says, she “did not speak to anyone in the superintendent’s office about the guns, but withdrew immediately to reflect upon what appeared to her to be a violation of the law. After reflection and soul-searching, plaintiff determined that the proper course of action was for her to report what she saw to law enforcement authorities.”
So she called the police chief, who sent an officer, and a representative from the district attorney’s office, who found out that the guns were BB guns.
Wilson says the school district’s attorney went on the warpath, and without getting her side of the story gave the board’s president a memo that “characterized (her) presence in the superintendent’s office on school board business as ‘unauthorized access.'”
“As a matter of law, however, the superintendent, an employee of the school district of which plaintiff is a duly elected trustee, has no more expectation of privacy in his office than does a student who seeks to conceal illegal drugs in his hall locker, or a school employee who uses a school computer to access and view pornography,” Wilson says.
At a closed board meeting from which Wilson was excluded, the school district’s attorney said “that an individual school trustee is prohibited from conducting an investigation individually” and accused Wilson of “conducting an investigation in violation of board policy,” according to the complaint.
Wilson says she did nothing but report what she thought was a crime to law enforcement, and that she had reason not to go to the board president because she “was aware, based on her years of experience as a trustee, that any instance of superintendent wrongdoing which might be reported to board President McMinn would not be acted upon appropriately, but would be swept under the rug, because Superintendent Franklin was known to her to be board president McMinn’s protégé and protectorate.”
Neither Superintendent Kenn Franklin nor school board president McMinn are named as defendants.
The attorney’s memo said the board could discipline Wilson by issuing a public reprimand, filing a grievance against her with the appropriate agency and removing her “on grounds of incompetency, official misconduct or intoxication,” Wilson says.
The board met again and after a closed session “a public reprimand was adopted by voice vote and read into the record,” Wilson says.
She appealed to Commissioner Scott, who ruled 2 years later – in April this year – that Wilson “had somehow failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, notwithstanding her grievance filed with the board of trustees, because a hearing concerning her complaint had not been conducted and a record made for the commissioner’s review,” according to the complaint.
Wilson claims the commissioner needs no record of board proceedings to review, as the legal issue is “whether the board was authorized to take that action.”
She seeks an order that the “commissioner of education erred in dismissing her appeal for purportedly failing to exhaust her administrative remedies,” and that the board’s public reprimand “is null, void and of no force or effect.”
She is represented by Mark Robinett.