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Rare public hearing held for teacher dismissal case
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A teacher’s dismissal was upheld Monday following an appeal to the Hall County Board of Education.

The public hearing took most of the day and was a new experience for those involved, including Superintendent Will Schofield.

“First one in my 15 years,” he said. “Most nonrenewal decisions are handled way before a hearing.”

Monday’s hearing was for teacher Toney Lancaster, who has been teaching gifted education in Hall County for 16 years. Her dismissal was the result of various allegations involving personal disputes with co-workers and parents of students, stemming from the 2011-12 and the most recent school years.

Lancaster and her attorney, Borquaye Thomas, said the information provided was inaccurate. During her testimony, Lancaster said she had perceived certain interactions differently, or that she was not the instigator in other instances.

The public hearing, held in the board’s regular meeting room, resembled a court case, with lawyers arguing the situation before the school board. Witnesses were brought forward, including the principals of Lula Elementary, Lanier Elementary and Friendship Elementary, the three schools Lancaster worked at over the past two school years.

Tenured employees whose contracts are recommended to not be renewed are eligible for a public hearing, though Schofield said most choose to resign.

During testimony, Schofield said that fewer than 10 certified, tenured employees may require closer evaluation on an annual basis, depending on his regular conversations with principals about any personnel concerns.

Lancaster, who taught at Friendship during the 2011-2012 school year, was transferred to Lula and Lanier after Friendship principal Berry Walton requested the move, testifying that there had been an increase in confrontational behavior.

Walton has been principal of Friendship for the past 12 years. He said that Lancaster was working at the school when he assumed his role.

Schofield testified that usual procedure is to transfer people to different schools or positions if the situation warrants it, as the belief is that the person may have talent and skills and simply be in the wrong place.

He said that there was no change in Lancaster’s reports following her transfer.

“I want to remind the board that allegations don’t constitute evidence,” Thomas said during his closing argument, also noting that his client had always received satisfactory reviews of her teaching skills. He asked that Lancaster be allowed to retain her teaching position and transferred to another school.

After an executive session to discuss the evidence presented, the school board voted unanimously to uphold Schofield’s recommendation to dismiss Lancaster.

Lancaster and Thomas left before the decision was announced. Neither could be reached for comment following the announcement.

Lancaster does have one more venue to pursue if she chooses.

“The next step would be a possible appeal to the state board of education,” said Phil Hartley, attorney for the school system. “That would be an on-the-record appeal where the state board would just review the transcript. That would be her only other option to appeal at this point.”

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