Falvey orders Douglas Coleman disciplinary penalty to be determined by another officer

Staff reports

The Dundee Central School has prevailed in the latest chapter of  the disciplinary action against high school teacher Douglas Coleman.

The school district released a statement on May 4 explaining that Yates County Acting Supreme Court Judge W. Patrick Falvey vacated the decision reached by Administrative Hearing Officer Dennis Campagna, who issued a penalty of six months without pay after finding Coleman guilty of multiple counts of misconduct in a lengthy hearing process.

The school district appealed that decision, seeking the right to terminate Coleman's employment with the school district.

Falvey ruled that Campagna's decision regarding the penalty lacks a rational basis, and remanded the case to a new hearing officer to determine the appropriate penalty.

The school's statement says, "The Board of Education is pleased with Judge Falvey’s decision and is optimistic that a review of the proven charges against Mr. Coleman by a new and independent hearing officer will result in the appropriate measure of discipline which the Board believes to be termination.  This hearing has been a long and arduous process, but the Board of Education remains resolute that the students of Dundee Central School District deserve teachers that live up to the standards of their profession and model the behaviors and expectations we have for our children, particularly when this teacher has, on two previous occasions, been suspended without pay for infractions similar to those involved in this proceeding."

On Jan. 7, Campagna found Coleman guilty of conduct unbecoming a teacher on the following charges:

1. 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 than should have been utilized for twelfth grade students, and contained inappropriate and suggestive vocabulary terms;

2.    Coleman made inappropriate references to a student with disabilities in a poor and/or failed attempt at humor on a twelfth grade government examination; and

3.    Coleman attempted to bypass the established District procedure with respect to the utilization of movies within his class.

In the same case, the hearing officer had previously found Mr. Coleman guilty of the following charges:

1.    Coleman threatened to kill a ninth grade student for speaking with a peer during the Pledge of Allegiance;

2.    Coleman touched a female student (on her upper thighs) in a manner she found disconcerting while he was attempting to demonstrate a medieval torture technique;

3.    Despite having been directed (and previously disciplined) not to use nicknames in reference to students, Coleman referred to certain ninth grade female students as “Speedy” and “Yummy”;    

4.    Coleman inappropriately touched the hair, chest and necklace of at least one female student; and

5.    Coleman regularly ignored fair and consistent grading practices.

Despite having found Coleman guilty of three additional acts of misconduct, Campagna refused to order additional discipline beyond the six month suspension originally awarded, stating, “It would be inherently unfair and totally contrary to the just cause protocol to issue further discipline to (Coleman) for actions that were never repeated and I will not do so.”

This is the second time Falvey has ruled in the case, which dates back to Coleman's suspension in 2008, and subsequent disciplinary hearing. The hearing process —commonly referred to as a 3020a hearing — is a formal process used when school districts are attempting to dismiss a tenured employee in New York State.

Campagna had ordered Coleman to be suspended withou pay for six months last May.

However, the school district was instructed to continue paying Coleman's medical insurance premiums. The school district suspended him from June 2, 2010 to this February, but appealed Campagna's decision.

Last October, Falvey agreed with the school district that it should not be required to pay for Coleman's medical insurance premiums during the six month suspension, which he served in 2010.

This is the second disciplinary hearing involving Coleman since he began teaching at the district.

In May 1997 Coleman was found guilty of conduct unbecoming a teacher and was suspended from teaching without pay for the remainder of the 1996-97 school year, which amounted to just over one month.

That case dated back to 1993.

Coleman first started working in the school district in the early 1980s and received tenure in 1985.

In the mid 1990s, he agreed to an unpaid five-day suspension for using excessive disciplinary force against a student.