Appeals court affirms dismissal of former WOSMS principal's suit

Steve Korris Aug. 5, 2009, 1:38pm

Superintendent O. Taylor Collins of West Orange-Cove school district transferred middle school principal Dale Dardeau to an assistant principal position at an elementary school for proper reasons, Ninth District appeals judges ruled on July 30.

They affirmed Orange County District Judge Buddie Hahn, who granted summary judgment in favor of Collins and the school board.

Dardeau alleged violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act, claiming Collins transferred him for a telephone call he made to the Texas Education Agency.

Collins and the board answered that they discussed the need for a new principal at West Orange Stark Middle School for months before Dardeau called the agency.

Dardeau aimed to prove that Collins read e-mails about his call, but neither Hahn nor the Ninth District cared to know if Collins read it.

"While Collins may have been aware of Dardeau's phone call to the TEA on the morning of Aug. 3, 2005, there is nothing in the record to suggest that phone call was significant to Collins or played any part in his decision," Justice Charles Kreger wrote.

Chief Justice Steve McKeithen and Justice Hollis Horton agreed.

Dardeau pleaded that Hahn should have allowed an affidavit of district employee Kathleen Rogers, but the three judges found that it corroborated Collins.

"We find Dardeau's reliance on Rogers' affidavit both improper and unpersuasive," Kreger wrote.

Collins started as superintendent in January 2005. Middle school parents brought him concerns him about fairness, respect and the school's academic standing.

Collins learned that two previous superintendents placed Dardeau on growth plans after he exhibited racial insensitivity and demonstrated racial bias.

In May 2005 a preliminary report of the TEA rated West Orange Stark Middle School academically unacceptable.

It was the only school in the district to receive and unacceptable rating.

Collins pronounced the scores in mathematics and science "dismal and unacceptable" in a statement to the daily Beaumont Enterprise

"The great moral tragedy is that of the 135 African American students who took the test, only 18 percent, or 24 students, passed it," he wrote.

"Swift, protracted and research based actions must be taken immediately to right this great wrong," he wrote. "I am bound and determined to provide the leadership to achieve justice in the system."

Throughout the summer Collins and school board president Harry Barclay discussed placement options for Dardeau.

A final TEA report confirmed the unacceptable rating of the middle school on Aug. 1, 2005.

On Aug. 2, Collins and human resources director Margaret DuChamp agreed to assign Dardeau as assistant principal at Anderson Elementary School.

The next day Dardeau phoned the TEA's assessment division and said he believed 38 fifth graders at West Orange Stark Middle School were socially promoted to sixth grade.

He sent e-mails to Collins and curriculum director Jane Stephenson, asking for minutes of a meeting detailing circumstances that justified promotions of 33 fifth graders.

On Aug. 4 Collins notified Dardeau of his reassignment to Anderson Elementary.

Dardeau didn't work the next year claiming medical reasons and drew his full salary.

He returned to work the next year as assistant principal at Anderson, but in 2007 the board chose not to renew his contract.

He retired and started drawing a pension.

Kreger's opinion didn't state when Dardeau sued Collins and the board, but Collins and the board moved for summary judgment in 2007.

Collins stated in an affidavit that no one from the Texas Education Agency contacted anyone in the district about an allegation of improper social promotion.

Stephenson stated in affidavit that Collins told her that he was shocked by the disparity between white and minority performance at the school.

Barclay testified at a deposition that he and Collins discussed Dardeau for months.

Judge Hahn, finding no genuine issues of fact at issue, threw out Dardeau's suit.

The Ninth District affirmed, finding no evidence that Dardeau ever followed up on his request for information or spoke again with the Texas Education Agency.

"Whether or not Collins was aware of Dardeau's phone call to the TEA at the time of Dardeau's reassignment, assuming all evidence favorable to Dardeau is true, the trial court could reasonably have found that the district conclusively established its affirmative defense as a matter of law," Kreger wrote.

"The evidence in the summary judgment record conclusively establishes that Collins began contemplating Dardeau's reassignment when he received the preliminary scores in May 2005 and contemplated that decision for several months," he wrote.

Betsy Bender represented Collins and the school board.

Larry Watts and Joe Alford represented Dardeau.

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