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BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT v. HELENE KARAFIN (09/25/85)

decided: September 25, 1985.

BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT,
v.
HELENE KARAFIN, RICHARD PUCHINO, KAREN BRODY, LYNN ROCCOGRANDI, SHERRIE NOCH, ROCHELLE GAY, JANICE HINES, RICHARD CORNWELL, LINDA HARTEN, LINWOOD ROHRBACH, AND JOANN SCHMIDT, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of Commonwealth Court entered July 18, 1984, at No. 1552 C.D. 1982 Affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, entered on June 8, 1982, at No. 81-09135-15-1, 84 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 52 , Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ.

Author: Papadakos

[ 508 Pa. Page 410]

Opinion OF THE COURT

Bristol Township School District appeals from the Order of the Commonwealth Court, 84 Pa. Commw. 52, 478 A.2d 539 which affirmed the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County. The Court of Common Pleas had ordered the School District to grant eleven teachers sabbatical leave for the 1981-82 school year. The effect of this order was to postpone their suspension from employment

[ 508 Pa. Page 411]

    which had been scheduled to begin at the end of the 1980-81 school year.

The issue in this case is one of first impression in this Commonwealth and involves a conflict between two provisions of the Public School Code.*fn1 The conflict is between Section 1124*fn2 of the Public School Code which empowers school boards to suspend professional employees because of a "substantial decrease in pupil enrollment in the school district," and Section 1166*fn3 which entitles any professional employee of the public school system who has completed ten years of satisfactory service "to a leave of absence for restoration of health, study or travel, or, at the discretion of the board of school directors, for other purposes."

Commonwealth Court, in affirming the trial court, held that, under Section 1166 of the School Code, a sabbatical is mandatory once an employee meets the requirements of Section 1166; thus, a school board has no discretion whether to grant the sabbatical leave. Therefore, the Court reasoned, a school board cannot deny the employee's right to a sabbatical leave because the employee was scheduled to be suspended.

For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the Commonwealth Court.

There is no factual dispute in this case. All eleven Appellees were teachers in the Appellant Bristol Township School District, who, except for the legal issue to be resolved in this case, would otherwise qualify for a sabbatical leave.

Appellees were notified prior to the end of the 1980-81 school year that they would be suspended for the 1981-82 school year in accordance with the provisions of Section 1124 of the Public School Code.*fn4 The suspensions were the

[ 508 Pa. Page 412]

    result of the closing of a high school in the school district brought about by a decline in pupil enrollment. Appellees admit in their brief to this Court that they were aware that they might be suspended by the school district as a result of the declining enrollment. All Appellees applied for sabbatical leave for the 1981-82 school year. These requests were denied by the School District because all eleven Appellees were scheduled to be among those teachers suspended at the end of the 1980-81 school year. Appellees petitioned for declaratory judgment under 42 Pa.C.S. ยง 7533, seeking a declaration of their rights under the Public School Code regarding their requested sabbatical leaves.

The trial court ruled in favor of Appellees, holding that the right to a sabbatical leave, once accrued under the Code, could not be denied due to suspension. The trial court held that the requested sabbatical leave should have extended Appellees' employment to the end of the 1981-82 school year, at which time the notice of suspension could have become effective.

Commonwealth Court affirmed this determination and the School District petitioned for our review. We granted allocatur to resolve the apparent conflict between several sections of the Public School Code. The issue to be resolved is whether the suspension of a teacher or other professional employee pursuant to the Public School Code deprives the employee of a sabbatical leave to which he or she would otherwise be entitled.

The pertinent sections of the Public School Code underlying this ...


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