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Snyder v. Millersville University

December 3, 2008

STACEY SNYDER PLAINTIFF
v.
MILLERSVILLE UNIVERSITY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Diamond, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Stacey Snyder alleges that Defendants -- five Millersville University administrators -- violated her First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Having held a two day non-jury trial, I enter judgment for Defendants and offer my supporting factual findings and legal conclusions. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

From June 2002 until May 2006, Plaintiff attended Millersville University, where she majored in education. On May 13, 2006, after Defendants determined that Plaintiff had not successfully met the prerequisites for obtaining the degree of Bachelor of Science in Education, they allowed Plaintiff to graduate from MU with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed that decision to Dr. Jane S. Bray, Dean of MU's School of Education and Dr. Vilas A. Prabhu, MU's Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

On April 25, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court against Millersville University, Bray, Prabhu, and J. Barry Girvin, her supervisor in MU's Student Teaching Program. She included three state law claims, and also alleged that Defendants had violated her First Amendment free speech rights and her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

On September 17, 2007, I dismissed Plaintiff's claims against MU with prejudice on Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity grounds. (Doc. No. 15). I gave Plaintiff leave to amend: (1) her ambiguous claims against the remaining Defendants in their individual capacities; and (2) her request for relief against those same Defendants in their official capacities. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 n.10 (1989); Melo v. Hafer, 912 F. 2d 628, 635 (3d Cir. 1990), aff'd 502 U.S. 21 (1991).

On October 12, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint, again alleging that Bray, Prabhu, and Girvin, acting in their individual and official capacities, violated her First Amendment free speech rights and her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Plaintiff also brought several state law claims against Defendants in their individual capacities. I dismissed the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, ruling that Defendants had afforded Plaintiff adequate process. (Doc. No. 23). I also dismissed Plaintiff's state law claims as non-cognizable and barred by sovereign immunity. I denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiff's First Amendment claim.

On March 18, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint, adding as Defendants Dr. Judith Wenrich, MU's Student Teaching Coordinator and Director of Field Services, and Dr. Beverly Schneller, the Chair of MU's English Department. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Bray, Prabhu, Girvin, Wenrich, and Schneller violated her First Amendment free speech rights. She sought monetary damages from Defendants in their individual capacities and injunctive relief from Defendants in their official capacities.

On April 11, 2008, Defendants moved for summary judgment. I granted Defendants' Motion in part, ruling that qualified immunity barred Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their individual capacities. (Doc. No. 39).

On May 6 and May 7, 2008, I conducted a non-jury trial on Plaintiff's claim for mandatory injunctive relief against Defendants in their official capacities. Plaintiff asks me to compel Defendants to: (1) award her a BSE and the teaching credits that will enable her to seek teaching certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Education; and (2) "take all necessary steps" to ensure that the PDE approves Plaintiff's application for initial teaching certification. (Doc. No. 31 at 18-19.)

Under PDE regulations, Defendants do not have the authority to award Plaintiff a BSE or the teaching credits she seeks, nor can they recommend her for initial teaching certification. Moreover, Defendants did not violate her First Amendment rights. Accordingly, I conclude that Plaintiff is not entitled to mandatory injunctive relief.

FINDINGS OF FACT

In the summer of 2002, when she was twenty-two, Plaintiff enrolled at Millersville University as a full-time student. She majored in biology for one year before switching to English and, eventually, to education. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 4-5.) As part of the required education curriculum, in 2005 Plaintiff completed various field assignments at area schools, where she observed teachers and taught two mini-lessons. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 6-7, 9, 11.) During the entire Spring Semester of 2006, Plaintiff was enrolled in MU's Student Teaching Program, which entailed considerably greater responsibilities, including lesson and curriculum planning, teaching a full course load, and administering exams. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 25), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 13-15), (Pl.'s Exs. 4, 5). She anticipated that upon her successful completion of the Student Teaching practicum, she would receive a BSE on May 13, 2006.

Millersville University's Practicum Requirements

The Pennsylvania Department of Education closely regulates the training and certification of those who seek to become public school teachers. MU's policies and requirements reflect those regulations. For instance, MU requires that every student who seeks a BSE must successfully complete a Student Teaching placement. (Tr. May 6, 2006 at 204, 233-235, 245-248), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 117-124). This reflects the PDE's regulation providing that every applicant must complete a "Department-approved teacher preparation program" -- which must include a "full-time student teaching experience" -- before seeking initial teaching certification from the PDE. 22 Pa. Code §§ 49.82(b)(2), 354.25(f); (Pl.'s Ex. 4 at 9). The regulations also provide that each applicant for initial teaching certification must receive a recommendation for certification from his or her university. Id. § 49.82(b)(4). MU cannot recommend a candidate for initial teaching certification without confirming that he or she has "achieved at least a satisfactory rating" in Student Teaching. (Doc. No. 45, App. 1), (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 235), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 134-136).

Plaintiff's Student Teaching Assignment

On January 16 and 17, 2006, Plaintiff attended MU's student teacher orientation conducted by Drs. Bray and Wenrich. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 12), (Pl.'s Ex. 9). Plaintiff there received a copy of the Millersville University Guide to Student Teaching. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 14), (Pl.'s Ex. 4). Plaintiff read and understood that manual before she began student teaching. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 111.) The Guide provides that MU student teachers are required to "maintain the same professional standards expected of the teaching employees of the cooperating school" and to "fulfill as effectively as possible every role of the classroom teacher . . . ." (Pl.'s Ex. 4 at 7.) The Guide also provides that the "student teacher is a guest of the cooperating school." (Pl.'s Ex. 4 at 7.) During the January orientation, Bray explained that student teachers are "novice teachers." (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 139:4.)

In January 2006, Plaintiff was assigned to student teach at Conestoga Valley High School, where full-time CV faculty member Nicole Reinking would serve as her Cooperating Teacher. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 15-16). In Mid-January, Plaintiff met with Reinking in the CV Teachers' Lounge. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 16, 113). Reinking reviewed plans for the Semester and discussed Plaintiff's responsibilities. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 16). Reinking also gave Plaintiff a Teacher's Edition of the course book and a copy of the final exam for one of the courses Plaintiff would teach. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 113-114), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 11-12). From the time Plaintiff began as a CV student teacher in January 2006 through May 2006, she took no classes at MU. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 129.) Plaintiff followed the CV school year calendar (rather than the MU academic calendar), and was responsible for conforming to Reinking's schedule. (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 14.)

After spending her first weeks observing Reinking's twelfth grade English classes, Plaintiff "started [her] teaching experience." (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 20:8-9), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 12). Within two months, Plaintiff was responsible for teaching two courses while Reinking observed. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 23, 126). Plaintiff also taught another CV literature course, where she was the "sole teacher" and had "complete responsibility for the students." (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 126:9-13.) By April 2006, Plaintiff taught a "full load" of courses at CV. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 117-118, 126), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 13). Her responsibilities included "writing out the lesson plans and getting the documents ready for the students," as well as understanding material "well enough to teach [it] back to the students." (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 25:2-9), (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 16). Plaintiff referred to the pupils in those CV classes as "my students," and thought that they believed her to be "their official teacher." (Pl.'s Ex. 51.) Plaintiff considered the other CV teachers -- with whom she attended faculty meetings -- to be her colleagues. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 93:2.)

Mid-Placement Evaluations

Throughout the practicum, Plaintiff experienced great difficulty with respect to her competence and over-familiarity with her students. Those difficulties were described in Plaintiff's evaluations, and would eventually lead to the difficulties that caused Plaintiff to bring this lawsuit.

J. Barry Girvin was Plaintiff's MU Supervisor during her time at CV. He was responsible for observing Plaintiff in the classroom and for evaluating her teaching. Girvin observed Plaintiff seven times during the Semester. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 187.) Plaintiff's "problems with discipline and also with content" concerned him. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 187:20-21.) He noted that she had difficulty maintaining a formal teaching manner. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 190-191.) Plaintiff explained at trial that Girvin helped her understand the importance of "putting [her] foot down." (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 20:24.) Girvin had advised her not to let the students "walk all over" her, and to remember "I'm the teacher, they're the students." (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 28:20-22).

At the middle and end of Plaintiff's CV placement, Girvin evaluated her work in two separate forms -- an MU evaluation and a PDE 430. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 185-186.) Girvin completed Plaintiff's mid-placement evaluation on March 21, 2006. He indicated that Plaintiff showed "good" or "reasonable" progress in most professionalism categories, but needed to work on appropriate communication with others -- including students, supervisors, and cooperating teachers -- and on establishing "proper teacher-student boundaries." (Pl.'s Ex. 45 at 1.) Girvin rated Plaintiff's overall performance "satisfactory." (Pl.'s Ex. 46 at 4-5.) He found her professionalism "superior," but her classroom environment "unsatisfactory," and indicated that she needed to employ a "more 'down to business' approach" with the students. (Pl.'s Ex. 46 at 2.) Plaintiff understood that she needed to attain satisfactory ratings in all PDE 430 categories before MU could recommend her for Pennsylvania teaching certification. (Tr. May 6, 2008 at 30.)

Throughout the practicum, Reinking criticized Plaintiff's competence -- especially her ignorance of basic grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage -- her inadequate classroom management, her poor understanding of the subjects she attempted to teach, and her inappropriate manner with students. (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 16-39.) Reinking found that on several occasions Plaintiff would "make up an answer" or "give the wrong answer" to student questions about literature or grammar. (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 32:9-20.) Reinking believed that the students were aware of Plaintiff's errors. (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 32:22-33:4.)

On March 20, 2006, Reinking completed her mid-placement evaluation of Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Ex. 65.) She indicated that Plaintiff needed "significant remediation" in several areas, including preparation, performance, and student learning. (Pl.'s Ex. 65 at 1-3.) Reinking noted that Plaintiff's lesson plans had "[m]any errors," and that "[t]oo many students are left behind as a result of ineffective lessons." (Pl.'s Ex. 65 at 1-2.) Reinking indicated that Plaintiff's professionalism showed "reasonable" or "good" progress, and that Plaintiff was interested in "getting to know her students on a personal level." (Pl.'s Ex. 65 at 1.) Reinking was concerned, however, that at times Plaintiff's efforts to "share her personal life" with the students crossed into "unprofessionalism." (Tr. May 7, 2008 at 21:8-11), (Pl.'s Ex. 65 at 1-2). Reinking thought it especially inappropriate that Plaintiff told an English class that her Valentines Day had been "ruined" when she encountered her former husband while dining out with her boyfriend. (Tr. May 7, 2007 at 22.) Reinking also noted that when Plaintiff could not control classroom behavior, she resorted to "talking over the students." (Pl.'s Ex. 65 at 1-2.) Reinking cited two instances when Plaintiff shouted "Shut-Up" at the students. (Pl.'s Ex. 65 at 2.)

It was apparent from Plaintiff's trial testimony that she greatly disliked Reinking, believing her criticisms to be ...


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