Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TOP STORY >> Principal’s firing upheld by judge

Leader staff writer

Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore on Monday upheld the Cabot School Board’s decision to fire former Northside Elementary principal Suzanne Proctor.

Proctor went on vacation last September without notifying the central office as district policy requires.

Because of that ruling, Proctor’s petition for reinstatement, damages and attorney’s fees were denied.

The ruling came the day before the election for school board. Proctor, now a high school English resource teacher in Little Rock, ran for Position 3 and lost to Mark Russell.

The judge said in her ruling that the board’s decision to fire Proctor for knowingly leaving her building with no administrator in charge was “supported on a rational basis, and therefore was not arbitrary and capricious” and that there was no evidence that the termination was discriminatory.

Proctor was notified on Sept. 9, 2011, that she was suspended with pay and that Dr. Tony Thurman, district superintendent, would recommend her termination to the school board.

She appealed that decision during a school board hearing last October. Her request during that hearing for more time to prepare was denied. And even though her attorney said the board room was so small that people had to stand in the hall and therefore the hearing was not open to the public as Proctor requested, the judge ruled that it was.

Proctor was out of her building three days last year: Sept. 1, 2 and 6.

For the first two days, the assistant principal was also away, and the school counselor was presumably the person in charge.

The period when Proctor was away from her building was the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. Testimony during the October 2011 school board hearing revealed that the trip with a friend was scheduled several days in advance, in plenty of time for her to notify Thurman that she would be gone.

Any woman would have done the same thing, she said. It was better to go away than stay home and wallow in self-pity, Proctor said during the school board hearing. Her only mistake was violating Thurman’s notification policy, she said. She believed that her staff was capable of carrying on in her absence.

But the school board ruled that her absence jeopardized the safety and well being of students and that her firing was justified.

By ruling against Proctor, the judge upheld that contention.