Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Court of Appeal Upholds Teacher Firing Over Sex Ad on Craigslist
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A school district had the right to fire a dean who placed an obscene “men seeking men” ad on Craigslist, regardless of whether students saw the ad, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
“The public posting on a Web site of pornographic photos and obscene text constitute immoral conduct in that it evidences ‘indecency’ and ‘moral indifference,’ “ Justice Gilbert Nares wrote for Div. One. The jurist’s April 4 opinion was certified yesterday for publication.
The decision overturns rulings by a Commission on Professional Competence and by a San Diego Superior Court judge that there was insufficient evidence to support Frank Lampedusa’s termination as dean of students at Farb Middle School.
Nares said the record before the commission established that Lampedusa’s conduct was immoral and established evident unfitness to serve in the school system, under relevant provisions of the Education Code.
Lampedusa, who was employed by the district beginning in 1999, was hired at Farb as a teacher in 2004 and promoted to dean the following year. His principal testified that he had performed well and was being considered for promotion to vice principal prior to the discovery of his ad, but that she once she viewed the ad, she did not believe that she could work with him or that he could be effective in dealing with students, either as a student or a teacher.
The ad was discovered in June 2008 by someone who called the school district police. The anonymous caller said he was a Farb parent and that a friend informed him of the ad.
The ad contained a physical description of Lampedusa and graphically described the type of men he was interested in dating. The ad contained four pictures of Lampedusa, depicting various parts of his body including his genitalia, but did not include his name and did not say where he worked or what he did for a living.
He was placed on administrative leave not long after the ad was discovered and was served with a notice of suspension and intent to dismiss three months later, on Nov. 10. 2008.
He contested the dismissal, giving him the right to a hearing before a three-person commission comprised of two educational professionals, one chosen by him and one by the district, plus an administrative law judge. Lamedusa acknowledged at the hearing that he placed the ad in order to find a sex partner, but that he had no intention that any student view the ad.
Asked whether it was possible for students to access the content, he testified:
“I would assume parents are taking their responsibilities to monitor children and what they’re doing on the Internet. I would assume that students are doing the right thing if they come across something that says that you shouldn’t have access, that they don’t access it.”
He also told the commission that “fundamentally I don’t believe what I did was...immoral.” He said he had placed similar ads in the past and would likely continue to do so, but would be “censoring” the types of photos he used.
The commission found that there was little likelihood of adverse impact on students or fellow teachers “since none of them learned of the incident.” While such impact “could certainly have been anticipated,” the commission said, Lampedusa did not expect anyone at school to learn of the ad because it was on an adults-only site.
The panel also found in mitigation that Lampedusa removed the ad once school officials learned of it, and that there was little reason to believe that the misconduct would recur.
The district petitioned the Superior Court for a writ of mandate setting aside the decision, but Judge Steven R. Denton ruled that the weight of the evidence supported the commission’s findings in favor of Lampedusa.
Nares, however, said the commission “inexplicably” ignored the principal’s testimony that she had seen the ad and had lost faith in the dean’s ability and effectiveness as a result. It was also error, he said, for the commission not to treat the graphic and obscene nature of the ad, the dean’s admission that he had posted similar ads in the past, and his willingness to shift responsibility to students and parents, rather than admit he had done something wrong, as aggravating factors.
As for the mitigating factor, that he had removed the ad, it did not support the commission’s decision, the justice said, because he only did so after a parent complained.
There was, Nares added, an established nexus between Lampedusa’s conduct and his fitness to teach, citing his testimony that he did not believe students would be adversely affected had they seen the ad and that he did not think posting it was immoral.
The case is San Diego Unified School District v. Commission on Professional Competence (Lampedusa), D057740.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company