Appeal from the Order of the Department of Education in the case of George Rhodes, Jr. v. Laurel Highlands School District, Teacher Tenure Appeal, No. 10-86.
Oliver N. Hormell, for petitioner.
Gary J. Frankhouser, for respondent.
Judges MacPhail, Colins and McGinley, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 118 Pa. Commw. Page 120]
George Rhodes, Jr., a tenured school teacher, appeals here from an order of the Secretary of Education which affirmed his dismissal as a professional employee by the Laurel Highlands School District (District). We affirm.
Rhodes at all times pertinent to this case taught General Science I and General Science II in the Laurel Highlands Senior High School. In October, 1984, the Superintendent of Schools met with Rhodes to discuss complaints that Rhodes was imposing his religious views upon the students in his classroom. These complaints were received by the District's guidance department and administration. Rhodes did not deny the allegations and stated that "he was a Christian and that part of his mission was in a sense evangelistic." Notes of Testimony (N.T.) from September 29, 1986 at 88.
Two days later, the Superintendent sent Rhodes a letter summarizing the discussion which occurred at the
[ 118 Pa. Commw. Page 121]
conference and warning him that the laws regarding the separation of church and state must be upheld, that he must cease and desist from the promotion of his personal religious views in the classroom and that if similar complaints were received in the future, appropriate action would be taken.
On September 19, 1985, a student who had apologized to Rhodes for disturbing his class, was required by Rhodes to pray with him in the hallway outside of the classroom as a condition of reentering the classroom. N.T. at 71. For that incident, Rhodes was suspended for four days. In the Superintendent's suspension letter, Rhodes was advised that his continued failure to heed warnings regarding the involvement of religion in the classroom could lead to his dismissal.
Notwithstanding the warnings, Rhodes in 1985 and 1986, according to testimony from some of his students, continued to discuss religion in his classroom. Rhodes once again was called into a conference with the Superintendent, and he again failed to deny any of the incidents which had been reported. N.T. at 91. When asked, inter alia, whether he could cease from imposing his religious views upon his students, Rhodes answered unequivocally "no." N.T. at 92. He was then suspended pending action by the District's Board (Board).
After a notice of charges and an amended notice of charges asserting that Rhodes had persistently and willfully violated the school laws or policies and had been persistently negligent in refusing to obey the administration's reasonable demand were served upon Rhodes, the Board held public hearings where various witnesses for and against Rhodes were heard. Rhodes was ably represented by counsel at all of the hearings. At the conclusion of the hearings, the Board filed its ...