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Court overturns teacher's discharge arising out of "misbehavior" at "bachelorette party"

Anna Land was fired by the L'Anse Creuse School Board after photographs of her simulating "crude" sexual behavior with a mannequin were posted on the internet.  The photographs were taken at a "bachelorette" party without Land's knowledge, posted without her consent, and removed from the internet within weeks.  Nevertheless, they created substantial gossip in the school district, and the Board fired Land.  She appealed, and this week the Court of Appeals overturned her firing.

  The Court reviewed the state precedents on off-site, off-duty "professional misbehavior" and concluded that the firing violated the State's tenure act for teachers.  By any interpretation of the language of the latter act, Land's isolated action did not constitute proof that she was "unfit to teach" or that her behavior "directly affect[ed]" her students or her ability to teach them.  Nor was it congruent with previous claims of "immorality, drug use, physical appearance and disloyalty" shown to have a "detrimental effect on the students' intellectual and moral growth."

The Court emphasized that while any misbehavior having a direct nexus with students can be cause for discipline, the instant incident was far-removed from the school campus or any apparent, likely impact on students.  This case did not involve a claim that Land "persistently and publicly violated important and universally shared community values."  The conduct complained of "did not involve students, was not committed while the teacher was performing duties for the school, and was not intended to be seen, known or discussed with students."  There was "overwhelming evidence that [Land] was an excellent teacher who went above and beyond her responsibilities."  The criticized conduct lasted for approximately 3 seconds in an environment where Land reasonably could expect that no child would be present.    Her behavior simply did not justify the Board's conclusion that she was "unfit to teach."

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