School board questions ruling that finds teacher guilty of three additional charges, but sends him back to work; vows to    prevent contact with students.


The Dundee School Board is not backing down from its resolve to fire high school teacher Douglas Coleman, whose unpaid suspension is due to end Feb. 1.

A state appointed hearing officer has taken a court-ordered second look at the charges brought against Coleman by the school in 2008, and decided that the teacher is guilty of three more counts of conduct unbecoming a teacher. However, the hearing officer, Dennis Campagna, did not order additional disciplinary action.

“It would be inherently unfair and totally contrary to the just cause protocol to issue further discipline to (Mr. Coleman) for actions that were never repeated and I will not do so,” wrote Campagna in his Jan. 7 decision.

At its Jan. 14 meeting, the board unanimously agreed to appeal the decision to Yates County Supreme Court.

A statement released by Board President Joseph Capurso says in part:

“The board of education is committed to ensuring the safety of its students and will continue to take whatever legal action is necessary to resolve this matter in favor of the students. The district believes that the six month suspension was excessively lenient and contrary to our state’s public policy of being vigilant in protecting students in our schools. The district will continue to seek Mr. Coleman’s dismissal.”

When Coleman’s suspension is over, he will be assigned alternative responsibilities not involving access to students during the appeal process, according to Capurso’s statement.

Coleman’s unpaid suspension was for six months. His annual salary is over $56,000.

Campagna initially ruled that the school district should pay Coleman’s health insurance costs during the unpaid suspension, but Yates County Judge Patrick Falvey ruled on Oct. 1 that

Coleman was not entitled to district-paid health insurance. At that time, Falvey also reinstated certain charges against Coleman which Campagna had initially dismissed.

This is the second time that the Dundee School District has attempted to fire Coleman, who was hired full time by the district in the 1980-81 school year. He received tenure in 1985. Since then, he has been suspended without pay three times. The last 3020a hearing was in 1997.

Following that process, Coleman was suspended without pay for two months. Before that, the school district had suspended him for five days.

In his most recent ruling, which is in regards to incidents dating back to November 2007,

Campagna decided Coleman was guilty of the following charges:

• Coleman administered a test to his 12th grade government class that contained misspellings, was the same test used two years previously, tested at lower academic levels thatn should have been used for 12th grade students and contained inappropriate and suggestive vocabulary terms;

• Coleman made inappropriate references to a student with disabilities on an exam in a poor and/or failed attempt at humor in a 12th grade government class.

• Coleman attempted to bypass the established district procedure with respect to the use of movies in his classroom.

Campagna had previously found him guilty of portions of the two charges that were filed by the district — conduct unbecoming a teacher and insubordination.

Specifically:
• Coleman admitted he told a ninth grade student who was speaking with a peer while the Pledge of Allegiance was being recited by others that if the student ever spoke again while the pledge was being recited, he (Coleman) would “kill him.”

• While attempting to demonstrate medieval torture procedures, Coleman touched a female student in a manner that she said was disconcerting.

• Despite being advised to refrain from using nicknames for students, he gave nicknames like “Speedy” and “Yummy” to students

• He touched the hair, chest and necklace of at least one student.

• In testing and grading practices Coleman regularly ignored fair and consistent grading practices. Students testified that they felt they were given favorable grades, and at least one female student said she was allowed to take a midterm exam home.