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SUZANNE JARRETT v. WATTSBURG AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT (12/03/87)

decided: December 3, 1987.

SUZANNE JARRETT, APPELLEE,
v.
WATTSBURG AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 3153 C.D. 1984, dated August 11, 1986. (Reargument Denied October 21, 1986) affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Civil Division dated September 21, 1984 at No. 4912-A-1983. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Hutchinson, Former Justice, did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 516 Pa. Page 556]

OPINION

The Wattsburg Area School District (District) appeals from an order of the Commonwealth Court which affirmed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County. The latter court had reinstated appellee to a position of guidance counselor following her appeal from the Wattsburg Area School District Board of Directors' (Board) affirmance of a furlough.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. Ms. Suzanne Jarrett was hired by the District in 1974, to serve in the capacity of guidance counselor. At that time she was certified by the Department of Public Instruction in that field. Mr. James Tonks was hired by the District in 1971. In 1976, he completed the necessary course work for certification as a guidance counselor but did not at that time apply for certification to the Department of Public Instruction. At the time of the events which gave rise to this dispute he was assigned as a teacher of Spanish and Driver Education, as well as a supervisor for study hall and lunch periods.

[ 516 Pa. Page 557]

In April of 1983, the Board upon recommendation of the superintendent decided to reduce the District's Driver Education program and change its format. On April 26, 1983, the Department of Public Instruction approved the changes proposed to it by the Board. The Driver Education reduction occasioned a need for a reduction in its staff and other adjustments for the school year 1983-84. Other certificated teachers were available to staff the reduced Driver Education program and to assume Mr. Tonk's Spanish classes as well. As a consequence he became a candidate for furlough.*fn1 However, in order to furlough Mr. Tonks or any other tenured teacher the School Code required that certain procedures were to be followed. Specifically, it provides:

Persons to be suspended

(a) Professional employes shall be suspended under section 1124 (relating to causes for suspension) in inverse order of seniority within the school entity of current employment. Approved leaves of absence shall not constitute a break in service for purposes of computing seniority for suspension purposes. Seniority shall continue to accrue during suspension and all approved leaves of absence.

(c) A school entity shall realign its professional staff so as to insure that more senior employes are provided with the opportunity to fill positions for which they are certificated

[ 516 Pa. Page 558]

    and which are being filled by less senior employes . . . .

24 P.S. § 11-1125.1. Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30. As amended July 10, 1986 P.L. 1270, No. 117, § 4.

Mr. Tonks, upon hearing of the possible furlough, applied to the Department of Public Instruction for his guidance counseling certificate on May 10, 1983. On May 16, 1983, acting on information that Mr. Tonks was qualified for and about to receive his certificate, the superintendent recommended that Ms. Jarrett be suspended because she was less senior than Mr. Tonks in terms of the dates of their respective hirings. The Board adopted the recommendation. Ms. Jarrett's suspension was to take effect "at the commencement of the 1983-84 school year." She was notified of this by letter from the ...


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