Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County in case of Daniel Gabriel v. Trinity Area School District, No. 264 July 1973.
John R. DeAngelis, with him Watzman, Leverson & Snyder, for appellant.
Robert L. Ceisler, with him Patrono, Ceisler, Edwards & Pettit, for appellee.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.
[ 22 Pa. Commw. Page 622]
Appellant, Daniel Gabriel, was a teacher of German in the Trinity Area School District (District) for six years. By letter dated May 11, 1973, he was informed that he was being suspended for the following school year because of a decrease in the number of students taking instruction in German. This decrease resulted, in large part, from the removal of elective foreign language instruction in the eighth grade as part of a districtwide plan to incorporate the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades into a middle school. Appellant and a Mr. William Adams were the only German teachers in the District. Although appellant had one more year of seniority than Mr. Adams, the latter had a higher efficiency rating than appellant, based on rating worksheets adopted by the District.
Appellant requested, and was granted, a hearing before the Board of School Directors (Board) under the Local Agency Law*fn1 to protest his suspension. On July 10, 1973, the Board approved the suspension. An appeal was taken to the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County which refused appellant's request for a trial de novo. After argument confined to the record made before the Board, the Court dismissed the appeal by an order dated November 21, 1974. From that action the appellant takes his appeal before this Court, alleging that (1) curtailment of the German program could not be a valid reason for staff reduction since the curtailment was not approved as required by law, (2) the rating worksheets used by the District were not those required by law, and (3) the selection of a teacher to be suspended should have
[ 22 Pa. Commw. Page 623]
been based purely on seniority since there was no substantial difference between the ratings of appellant and Mr. Adams.
Our scope of review in these cases is limited by Section 8(b) of the Local Agency Law (53 P.S. § 11308(b)). We are required to affirm the action of the local agency unless we find a violation of appellant's constitutional rights, an error of law or manifest abuse of discretion by the local agency, or that any necessary finding of fact made by the agency is not supported by substantial evidence. See Hickey v. Board of School Directors of Penn Manor School District, 16 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 319, 328 A.2d 549 (1974); Acitelli v. Westmont Hilltop School District, 15 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 214, 325 A.2d 490 (1974). This is a close case which raises important issues with regard to teacher suspensions under the Public School Code of 1949 (Code);*fn2 therefore, we will discuss each of appellant's objections in some detail.
A nondisciplinary suspension of a teacher, such as the one at issue in this case, can be made under Section 1124 of the Code (24 P.S. § 11-1124) for four reasons, among them:
"(2) Curtailment or alteration of the educational program on recommendation of the superintendent, concurred in by the board of school directors, approved by the Department of Public Instruction, as a result of substantial decline in class or course enrollments or to conform with standards of organization or educational ...