Thursday, August 13, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Fourth District’s Div. Two Affirms Judgment Denying Writ to High School Counselor Fired for Comments On Facebook Adverse to Students Who Missed Classes to Participate in Nationwide Protest
By Sandra Hong, Staff Writer
Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has upheld the firing of a high school guidance counselor for “immoral conduct” based on her expressing opposition on Facebook to students boycotting classes during the Feb. 16, 2017 national “Day Without Immigrants,” in protest to Trump Administration policies.
The opinion by Justice Carol D. Codrington, filed Tuesday, affirms a judgment of the Riverside Superior Court denying a petition for writ of mandate sought by Patricia Crawford, a former guidance counselor at Rubidoux High School (“RHS”), located in Riverside County’s Jurupa Unified School District. Crawford’s writ petition, which was denied by Judge Randall S. Stamen on Nov. 5, 2018, challenged the decision of the district’s Commission on Public Competence upholding the district’s action in terminating Crawford’s employment.
“[T]here is substantial evidence to support the trial court’s ‘ultimate finding’ that Crawford is ‘unfit to teach’ and, in turn, the trial court’s finding that Crawford engaged in immoral conduct.” Codrington wrote.
She went on to say:
“Crawford’s conduct gained significant notoriety, including nationwide media attention, which negatively affected her relationships with RHS’s students, administration, and community.”
The jurist added that “[g]iven the public outcry and the loss of confidence in her abilities as a counselor among RHS students, parents, and administrators,” it was evident that Crawford had become a detriment to the school.
Above is a social-media posting by Patricia Crawford, then a counselor at a high school in Riverside County, on Feb. 16, 2017, the “Day Without Immigrants.” The Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld her firing for “immoral conduct” by making comments of a derogatory nature concerning the absences and engaging in a back-and-forth online discourse with current and former students.
Part of Thread
Crawford’s Facebook comments were part of a thread started by teacher Geoffrey Greer and joined by other RHS teachers who described students absent from school on the day of the boycott as “lazy,” “drunk,” “failing,” and “troublemakers.”
Crawford posted on the thread: “Cafeteria was much cleaner after lunch, lunch, itself, went quicker, less traffic on the roads, and no discipline issues today. More, please.”
The Facebook thread soon caught the attention of current and former students, who expressed disappointment at the lack of support from teachers and, specifically, Crawford. She responded:
“Disappointing is to think that some of my students still don’t get it about education. Staff members who are sympathetic to the cause were at school today.…What I saw today was more proof, just like last year, that boycotts, especially of education, aren’t the answer. It just keeps the ones who need it the most as useful fools.”
One student complained of counselors who “belittle what you want to be” and “when you’re trying to aim high, they tell you that you can’t.” Crawford responded:
“[A]ny counselor who chops you off at the knees like that shouldn’t be a counselor. That’s why today upset me so much. I want my students to go out there and stand proud. Education is one way to do that.”
Another person replied to Crawford’s comment by asking, “Why contradict yourself now?” pointing out that Crawford had earlier said “More, please” when describing the benefits of having fewer students at school.
Crawford later remarked in the thread:
“I’m the great-granddaughter of immigrants. I care. But this isn’t the way to go about effecting change. My post was meant to be snarky. Get over yourselves.”
National Media Attention
The thread went viral across social media and caught national media attention. In the following days, classrooms of two of the teachers who commented in the thread were vandalized.
Students staged a walkout. The district received over 250 email complaints about the post, 50 of which specifically referenced Crawford’s comments.
Six faculty members, including Crawford, were put on administrative leave. The district informed her in May 2017 that she was to be fired.
Crawford argued that “immoral conduct” worthy of terminating a teacher should be limited to “criminal activity and using profanity and racial epithets,” and that her conduct did not meet this bar.
Codrington rejected the argument, citing the California Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Morrison v. State Board of Education, which describes “immoral conduct” as “conduct which is hostile to the welfare of the school community.”
“A teacher’s conduct is therefore ‘immoral’ under section 44932, subdivision (a)(1) when it negatively affects the school community in a way that demonstrates the teacher is ‘unfit to teach.’ ”
The school district fired Crawford “because of the adverse effect her comments had on her professional reputation, her ability to counsel students effectively, and her relationship with RHS generally,” Codrington said, remarking that her comments “had an undeniable negative effect” on the school and students.
In addition to the 50 email complaints the district received about Crawford, Crawford herself received at least 10. Nearly 40 persons complained about Crawford specifically at a board meeting after the incident.
Several students testified about their shock and dismay at Crawford’s comments, which they perceived as harboring anti-immigrant sentiment. Codrington cited Stamen’s trial court decision, where he found that Crawford’s comments “impacts [her] ability to act as a counselor” at a school that is 91 percent Latino.
Stamen further noted Crawford “continued to post on Facebook after she knew that the initial Facebook posts were being viewed by the public.”
The administrative committee governing teacher discipline also found Crawford’s comments to be discriminatory and her “get over yourselves” remark to students “demonstrated her utter lack of understanding or appreciation for the magnitude of her actions.” The committee also noted that Crawford “failed to demonstrate any insight for what she had done, take any real ownership for her actions, or exhibit any empathy for the students or community she harmed” while at her hearing on the district’s termination decision.
Other Teacher Dismissals
Unlike Crawford, two teachers who were also fired by the district as a result of the Facebook thread succeeded in gaining an overturning of their terminations by the commission, with the Superior Court denying the district’s writ petition in their separate cases, and the Court of Appeal affirming.
The Fourth District’s Div. One, in an opinion by Presiding Justice Judith McConnell, affirmed Stamen’s decision denying the district relief in the case of health teacher Allen Umbarger. The commission found that Umbarger “may have used poor judgment” in his posts, it did not reach the level of immoral conduct.
Science teacher Charles Baugh similarly “exhibited bad judgment” in his conduct on the Facebook thread, but it was not evidence of immoral conduct, the Fourth District’s Div. Two held in an opinion by Justice Douglas P. Miller. It upheld a decision by Riverside Superior Court Judge Sunshine S. Sykes.
The case decided on Tuesday is Crawford v. Commission on Professional Competence, 2020 S.O.S. 3785.
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