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Watkins v. Columbus City Schools

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 27, 2019

STANLEY WATKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
COLUMBUS CITY SCHOOLS, Defendant.

          Elizabeth P. Deavers Chief Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          EDMUND A. SARGUS, JR. CHIEF JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Columbus City Schools District's (the "Board") Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4), Plaintiff Stanley Watkins' ("Watkins") Memorandum Contra (ECF No. 7) and the Board's Reply (ECF No. 7) and Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Surreply or, in the Alternative, Motion for Leave to File a Response (ECF No. 11). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the Board's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) and DENIES as MOOT the Board's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Surreply (ECF No. 11).

         I.

         On February 6, 2019, Watkins, proceeding pro se, initiated this lawsuit nearly three years after the Board terminated his one-year contract as a special-needs kindergarten teacher. Watkins alleges the Board failed to properly notify him about his pre-disciplinary hearing, which violated his due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Pl.'s Compl. at ¶ 31 [ECF No. 1].)

         A. Factual Background

         Watkins worked for the Board as a special education kindergarten teacher from August to October 2015. During this time, the Board became concerned Watkins was unable to teach or control his class, maintain professional relationships with his teaching assistants, or ensure the safety of his seven disabled kindergarten students. In addition to those concerns, on several occasions Watkins was observed sleeping in his classroom while he was responsible for his students' care. On October 28, 2015, the Board removed Watkins from the classroom setting due to allegedly restraining a student in an improper manner.

         Watkins' removal prompted a pre-disciplinary hearing. On December 7, 2015, the Board sent Watkins a letter (the "Hearing Notice Letter"), which notified him of the pre-disciplinary hearing that was scheduled for December 16, 2015. The Hearing Notice Letter listed the Board's allegations against Watkins, as follows:

The reason for this [assignment] hearing is: it is alleged in the course of his position of [mentally disabled] kindergarten teacher, Stanley Watkins, on 10/26/15, violated the Board's Restraint and Seclusion Policy by implementing restraint and seclusion of a kindergarten student.... The following are allegations regarding Mr. Watkins's performance in the classroom: 1. Inappropriate student physical interventions; 2. Failure to exhibit / document planning instruction and to direct the teaching-learning process; 3. After being directed by assigned mentor to not restrain children, Mr. Watkins continues such; 4. Falling asleep in the classroom during the supervision of [mentally disabled] children; 5. Exhibiting ineffective / negative interpersonal communication with staff; 6. Ineffective classroom. Furthermore, it is alleged that his professional conduct has created an unsafe classroom containing multiple disability children.

(Pl.'s Compl., Ex. A [ECF No. 1].)

         At the December 16, 2015 pre-disciplinary hearing, a union representative and two union attorneys represented Watkins. The Board heard testimony from witnesses and reviewed documents. (See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. C [ECF No. 4-3].)

         On April 19, 2016, the Board notified Watkins that his alleged misconduct "is wholly contrary to his responsibilities, duties and obligations as a teacher" and therefore the Board would initiate termination proceedings. (See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A [ECF No. 4-1].) The Board stated that the grounds for termination-"each of which is asserted independent of, and/or in combination with, the other grounds"-were as follows:

1. On or about October 6, 2015, while charged with the responsibility of performing duties as a classroom teacher of kindergarten students with multiple disabilities, Stanley Watkins was observed seated in a chair in the corner of his classroom for at least twenty minutes, motionless with his eyes closed while apparently asleep. On several other occasions between August 26, 2015 and October 28, 2015, two classroom instructional assistants also observed Stanley Watkins apparently asleep in the classroom. During the same time period, the building principal observed Stanley Watkins apparently asleep during a staff meeting and during a professional development meeting.
2. On several occasions between August 26, 2015 and October 28, 2015, Stanley Watkins displayed negative and/or ineffective interpersonal communication with other staff, including but not limited to the Fairwood Alternative School Music ...

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