Teacher Who Helped Pregnant Girl Reinstated

DOVER, N.H. (CN) – A high school counselor who was fired for seeking legal help for a student who feared telling her mother that she wanted an abortion will get her job back, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled.
     The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled on April 7 the counselor Demetria McKaig should be reinstated to her job in the Farmington School District.
     Also that day, McKaig sued the school district on claims of wrongful firing, free speech violations and whistleblower protection.
     McKaig says the school district fired her for taking legally protected steps to protect a 15-year-old student who told her in November 2012 that she wanted an abortion but did not want her mother to know about it.
     “Student A feared that if her mother found out that she had been sexually active then she and her boyfriend could be in danger,” McKaig says in her complaint in Strafford County Court. McKaig adds that she “knew details about Student A’s family that made the threat credible in her estimation.”
     She says she “urged Student A to tell her mother about her pregnancy, but the student was adamant about her decision not to tell her mom.”
     So, McKaig says, she did some research and learned that New Hampshire’s Parental Notification law, RSA 132:32, allows a girl younger than 18 to ask “a judge to grant permission to have an abortion without parental consent through the ‘judicial bypass’ provisions of RSA 132:34.”
     At a weekly “core team” meeting, McKaig explained the girl’s dilemma, and the Parental Notification law, but Farmington High School Principal Matt Jozokos “was adamant” that the mother should be told, according to the complaint.
     The core team could not reach agreement, so after sleeping on it, Jozokos decided “that if she [Student A] was unwilling to tell her mother about her pregnancy, the school would,” and gave her a two-day deadline, McKaig says in the complaint.
     McKaig says she called an ACLU attorney, who confirmed the girl’s legal right to privacy, which McKaig relayed to the principal. Jozokos did not call the attorney, so she called him and explained the law, but Jozokos disagreed, without consulting the school’s attorney, according to the complaint.
     Concerned about the girl’s safety and her privacy, McKaig says, she told Student A that she, the girl, could ask a court to order the principal not to tell her mother. The girl asked her to do that, so McKaig had the NHCLU file a petition in her name on behalf of the student on Dec. 4, 2012, one day before the principal’s deadline.
     Student A prevailed in court, and McKaig was fired.
     When McKaig asked why her contract would not be renewed, she says, the school district accused her of insubordination, breach of confidentiality and neglect of duties.
     McKaig says those are all pretexts, and that the district violated state whistleblower law, that “no employer shall harass, abuse, intimidate, discharge, threaten or otherwise discriminate against any employee” because the employee reports in good faith that she “has reasonable cause to believe there is a violation of any law or rule adopted under the laws of this state.”
     Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis’s ruling affirmed the State Board of Education’s reversal of the Farmington School Board’s firing of McKaig, which the school district had appealed.
     Daliainis found that McKaig acted according to policy when she helped the student, that the principal never told her to stop helping the student, so McKaig was not insubordinate.
     “We affirm in part, reverse in part, order that McKaig be reinstated to her former employment, and remand to the board for further proceedings to determine whether she is entitled to additional remedies,” Dalianis wrote. Justices Carol Ann Conboy and James Bassett.
     Justice Robert Lynn dissented. He wrote that the majority ruling “represents another example of the phenomenon of casting normal legal principles aside when courts are confronted with cases that implicate the hot button issue of abortion” and said he could not “join the bandwagon of political correctness that provides the only justification for the majority’s decision.”
     McKaig is represented by Lawrence Vogelman in Manchester, Sanford Roberts in Portsmouth, and National Education Association attorney James Allmendinger, in Concord.
     Farmington School District declined to comment until the school board discusses the matter.

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