Thursday, January 23, 2020
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A teacher who posted a social media message that said the cumulative grade point average of his classes rose on the Day Without Immigrants—a day on which many students were absent as part of a protest to current immigration policies—was not “evidently unfit to serve,” the Court of Appeal has held.
The unpublished opinion, filed Tuesday, was written by Presiding Justice Judith McConnell of the Fourth District’s Div. One. It affirms a decision by Riverside Superior Court Judge Randall S. Stamen denying the Jurupa Unified School District’s petition for writ of mandate to set aside an administrative tribunal’s determination that, while the teacher “may have used poor judgment,” his conduct did not reflect evident unfitness for service or amount to immoral conduct.
McConnell stressed that the teacher, Allen Umbarger, had “exercised poor judgment and an alarming lack of consideration for the welfare and emotional well-being of the students in his charge.”
She said of statements the teacher posted:
“In our view, they reflect poor judgment and are unbefitting of a teacher, particularly one whose primary responsibility is to motivate and assist college bound students in a predominately Latino high school. In fact, had any members of this panel stood in the shoes of the trial court, we very well may have reached different determinations than the ones presented to us in the appellate record, directed the Commission to vacate its determination, and ordered the dismissal of Umbarger.”
Nevertheless, the jurist explained:
“[W]e are constrained by the governing standard of review” which required the Court of Appeal to determine only whether the record disclosed substantial evidence, controverted or uncontroverted, from which a reasonable trier of fact could have ruled in favor of the teacher.
Fitness to Serve
Finding such substantial evidence supported the Commission on Professional Competence’s decision, the opinion observes:
“We are troubled Umbarger ‘didn’t even think’ of the apparent connotations and foreseeable consequences of his reply, which students and the broader community alike reasonably interpreted as an unfounded and reprehensible commentary on race and national origin. Nevertheless, Umbarger’s testimony suggests that sheer thoughtlessness—rather than racist sentiment—animated his conduct. As such, his testimony constituted substantial evidence to support the trial court’s determination that the Commission appropriately exercised its discretion.”
The case is Jurupa Unified School District v. Commission on Professional Competence, D076213.
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