Steve Korris Feb. 25, 2009, 7:00am
West Orange-Cove Mustangs
Former West Orange-Cove assistant school principal Jamie Wilson should have appealed her firing to the Texas education commissioner instead of suing the school district, the Ninth District appeals court in Beaumont decided on Feb. 12.
"An employee who wishes to contest nonrenewal must apply to school authorities for relief before seeking relief in the courts," Justice Charles Kreger wrote.
Kreger and Chief Justice Steve McKeithen declared Wilson's appeal moot, ruling that she couldn't enforce a contract that had already expired.
Justice David Gaultney disagreed, slightly. "Although her appeal is not moot, it has no merit," he wrote in a concurring opinion.
All three justices rejected her claim that Superintendent O. T. Collins and school trustees violated her constitutional rights.
In 2006, Wilson signed a contract for two school years.
In March 2007, Wilson was reprimanded for watching a video tape of Collins in a deposition for a lawsuit pending against the district.
Two months later, the district received a complaint from federal civil rights officers that Wilson took no action for a parent whose son endured racial slurs on a bus.
In an evaluation in August 2007, Collins rated Wilson's performance below expectations in several areas and placed her on a professional growth plan. Wilson filed a grievance.
In November 2007, Collins told her she violated federal law by placing a student in special education without obtaining parental consent or filling out necessary forms.
Collins notified her that he would recommend nonrenewal of her contract.
Collins and Wilson participated in a grievance hearing on Dec. 13, 2007. The next day, she sued him and district trustees in Orange County district court.
She alleged that they retaliated against her for associating with a colleague who sued the district. She sought a declaration that they violated her rights.
The trustees moved to dismiss, arguing that she should pursue administrative remedies before suing.
Orange County District Judge Patrick Clark held a hearing in January 2008 and granted the motion.
Collins then denied her grievance.
In February 2008, trustees voted not to renew her contract. State law provided 20 days to appeal to the Texas education commission, but the deadline passed without action.
She appealed Clark's decision to the Ninth District, arguing her claims were not subject to administrative remedies.
The trustees answered that her appeal was moot because the contract ran out.
Their response satisfied Kreger and McKeithen.
"If a judgment, when rendered, will not have practical legal effect upon the parties, the case is moot," Kreger wrote.
"Wilson's declaratory judgment action seeks to enjoin the district from suspending her from employment and also seeks mandatory reinstatement to her former position under her employment contract," he wrote.
"However, Wilson's contract is no longer in effect," he wrote.
"Because Wilson chose not to contest the school district's decision, that decision is final," he wrote.
A declaration that Collins and trustees violated her rights would neither enjoin them from suspending her nor mandate reinstatement, he wrote.
Wilson was represented by attorneys Larry Watts and Joe Alford.
Betsy Hall Bender represented West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District.