Vincent DeYoung was a tenured teacher with the Hueneme Elementary School District ("District"). During the 2009-2010 school year, the District assigned him to teach a combination class of second and third graders who were English learners. During a classroom movie, DeYoung became angry and frustrated with students who were laughing and talking. He grabbed some of the students, told them to "shut up," called them "stupid," struck one student in the foot with a chair, threw a pencil or pen at two or three students, and hit three students on top of the head with a yardstick or metal desk leg.
DeYoung had a meeting with the school principal and later with the assistant superintendent, Deborah DeSmeth, to discuss the incident. District representatives orally informed the governing board of the complaints against DeYoung. The District eventually placed him on administrative leave and detailed the charges against him by letter, and then held a Skelly meeting.
During a closed meeting, the District's governing board voted to dismiss DeYoung based on charges and information orally presented by DeSmeth. After this, the District sent a letter advising DeYoung of the board's decision and outlining the specific charges. Approximately two months later, the District served an amended written accusation proposing to dismiss DeYoung on grounds of evident unfitness for service, refusal to obey school laws, and immoral conduct.
DeYoung requested and received a hearing before the Commission on Professional Competence ("Commission"). DeYoung moved to dismiss the administrative proceeding, citing the governing board's violation of Education Code section 44934 when it failed to consider or formulate written charges before initiating dismissal. The chairperson denied this motion. In a unanimous decision, the Commission upheld DeYoung's dismissal on all three grounds.
DeYoung challenged this decision in court, claiming that the Commission lacked jurisdiction over the proceeding because the District's governing board did not act on written charges when it authorized his termination, as required by statute. The trial court rejected this strict interpretation of the statute, and DeYoung appealed.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court and ruled that DeYoung's dismissal was proper because the procedural error was neither substantive nor prejudicial. While section 44934 does provide that a district's governing board may give notice of intent to dismiss on consideration of either the district's filing of verified written charges or the board's formulation of written charges, section 44944, subdivision (c)(2) states: "The decision of the Commission . . . that the employee should not be dismissed . . . shall not be based on nonsubstantive procedural errors committed by the school district or governing board unless the errors are prejudicial errors." The court reasoned that the strict application of section 44934 that DeYoung argued for would render section 44944, subdivision (c)(2) meaningless. The court noted that the charges against DeYoung were clear from the start and never changed, and the District ultimately drafted written charges consistent with the DeSmeth's oral presentation to the governing board.
Note: Although this provides districts with some leeway in making procedural mistakes, districts should still remain vigilant in following all proper procedures and steps of the dismissal process. Fixing and litigating procedural errors after the fact is far more time-consuming and expensive than getting things right in the first place. The District here likely would have avoided the appellate hearing entirely and possibly also the trial court writ hearing, considering DeYoung did not challenge the merits of his dismissal at all.
DeYoung v. Commission on Professional Competence of the Hueneme Elementary School District (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 568.