Susan Elliott dismissal is upheld in board action
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Jun 21, 2013 | 2391 views | 0 0 comments | 141 141 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Bradley County Board of Education on Thursday upheld a decision by impartial hearing officer Dale Conder Jr. to dismiss Susan Elliott from her position as a teacher at Hopewell Elementary School.

The board voted 4-3 in favor of the decision by the impartial hearing officer that the evidence presented was grounds to dismiss a tenured teacher. The motion was made by board member Troy Weathers.

Elliott’s attorney, Virginia McCoy, said they are considering appealing the board’s decision in Bradley County Chancery Court. This is the next legal step as allowed by Tennessee Code Annotated 49-5-511.

A decision will be made after McCoy receives a copy of the board’s report on the meeting as prepared by BCBOE chairman Charlie Rose.

During Thursday’s appeal hearing, board members were allowed to ask questions to McCoy or to Bradley County School Board attorney Chris McCarty. Several questions were asked before a motion was made.

Each attorney was given 10 minutes at the beginning of the hearing to state his or her case.

“Our position in bringing this appeal to the board is that the decision made by the hearing officer was not supported by good evidence in the record,” McCoy said.

McCoy pointed to how Conder chose to believe an officer’s testimony of a July 23, 2012, incident over Elliott’s testimony.

“The issue we have is that in making a determination that that incident amounted to conduct unbecoming someone of the teaching profession is that the hearing officer made a determination that officer Porter was a more credible witness about what happened at the house than Ms. Elliott, who was the eyewitness,” McCoy said. “That is just a false determination by that hearing officer.”

Charges for dismissal were filed in October 2012, and listed “incompetence, neglect of duty and unprofessional conduct” as the grounds for dismissal.

The charges stemmed from alleged assault charges and an investigation by the school system. The charges were later dropped when the other party, Greg Grammer, recanted and Elliott’s record was expunged.

Elliott’s attorney also said hearsay was used as testimony regarding complaints about Elliott’s competency. She said the testimony was from teachers who had been told things by students and parents, yet these students and parents were never identified or questioned to confirm what was said.

Testimony during the dismissal hearing highlighted the fact there had been some performance concerns from Principal Tim Riggs.

“Even though she had been an outstanding teacher for years and years and years, there were no attempts by this administration to offer her a chance to improve,” McCoy said.

No improvement plan was developed or implemented.

McCarty said during the appeal that Condor found it “troubling” that Grammer recanted his story in September.

He emphasized the impartial hearing officer agreed with the charges made by Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel.

“He (Condor) found that credibility heavily favored the superintendent’s side,” McCarty said. “There have been two fact finders [who] have heard this exact same situation [that happened on July 23], not just Dale Condor, but also Judge Puckett found Julius Porter to be a credible witness.”

Judge Larry Puckett heard testimony about the incident during a custody hearing.

McCarty said evidence Porter found at the house matched the testimony of Grammer, who initially filed assault charges and later recanted his story.

“It wasn’t just hearsay. ... It was things he saw that were collaborated with physical evidence and statements,” McCarty said.

McCarty said Elliott testified in Puckett’s courtroom that she still dated Grammer after the July 23 incident.

In the dismissal hearing, Elliott said she did go out with Grammer after the July 23 incident. McCarty then submitted a transcript of the hearing in Puckett’s courtroom for evidence in the dismissal hearing.

The board was also given time to discuss the issue before making a motion. A motion made by Nicholas Lillios to reverse the decision by Conder failed.