Court orders PAISD to produce documents in teacher termination case

By David Yates | Feb 10, 2010

A Port Arthur Independent School District math teacher, whose 14 years of service sits under the chopping block, alleged Tuesday that the district "stacked the deck" against him after he spoke out about under-prepared students.

A middle school math instructor for PAISD, Jerome Melonson filed a petition for injunctive relief in Jefferson County last week, asking the court to prevent his termination.

A hearing was held for a temporary injunction on Feb. 9 in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court in which Judge Floyd ordered PAISD to produce school related documents Melonson had been unsuccessfully seeking.

According to the suit, Melonson said he was a successful math teacher at Edison Middle School, despite the fact that his students were "under educated" when they arrived in his class.

In addition, he claims he contributed to the school's improved math performance on the 2008 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

As a reward for his achievement, Melonson says the district offered him a two-year teaching contract on April 30, 2008, instead of the customary one-year contract.

However, during the hearing PAISD attorney Melody Chappell said all district teachers were awarded a two-year contract around that time.

According to the petition, Melonson claims that despite his successes at Edison, the district transferred him to Austin Middle School to teach sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math.

Melonson alleges the transfer was an act of retaliation because Superintendent Johnny E. Brown and other administrators learned Melonson had been openly discussing the under-education of the school district's students.

His open discussion of the district's problems was "contrary to Brown's policy against transparency in PAISD's public education," Melonson claims.

At Austin Middle School, a new "universal algebra" policy required that all eighth-grade students take algebra. That became problematic for Melonson, who claims administrators packed his class with "under-educated" students.

"They (the district) constructed the class to fail," said Melonson's attorney, Larry Watts. "They stacked the deck against him, gave him a rigged game."

He claims the district continued to harass him, even after he taught only sixth-grade math following Hurricane Ike. Melonson said he was placed on a professional growth plan which he says he fulfilled.

On the last day of the 2008-2009 school year, Melonson learned that he was to be terminated, even though he was being recruited to teach academics in the PAISD summer school programs and coach.

"On June 24, 2009, Kenneth Marks, the President of the PAISD Board of Trustees, wrote and advised Plaintiff that the Port Arthur Independent School District Board of Trustees proposed the termination of [Plaintiff's] Contract of Employment for good cause as determined by the Board," the petition states.

Several months prior to the suit, Melonson sat through a hearing on Aug. 25 -- before the same board that voted on his termination -- during which a principal told board members Melonson was unfit to teach, court papers say.

Chappell said during the hearing that Melonson had received several "substandard evaluations" and demonstrated a history of making students feel inadequate and "that's why he's being terminated."

At the center of the hearing were documents which Melonson requested from PAISD. He and Watts claim the documents are crucial to his defense, but the district has delayed providing.

"PAISD has attempted to rig the hearing against Plaintiff, and has refused to provide the documents which would demonstrate the accuracy of Plaintiff's charges and claims and the inaccuracy of PAISD's claims," the petition states.

Chappell said several of the documents Watts was seeking contain students' personal information and cannot be lawfully released.

But Watts said he was not seeking names and student identification numbers, only test scores and prior class placement.

Judge Floyd did not order the release of all the documents Watts was seeking, but only those related to when Melonson taught sixth-grade at Austin.

"We'll see what we got and go from there," he said.

Watts said he believes the school records will show that district constructed the "universal algebra" as a vehicle to end Melonson's career.

In his suit, Melonson says the universal algebra class dissolved soon after his termination.

Jefferson County District Court case number: E185-852.

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