Ky. Supreme Court Rules Teacher's Actions Were Not "Conduct Unbecoming"

Apr 29, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a longtime Fayette County elementary school teacher who was suspended without pay for nearly a year and a half for how she disciplined children running in the hall.

In their opinion issued last week, justices found that Rosalind Hurley-Richards did not commit “conduct unbecoming a teacher” when she used physical contact to direct a rowdy second-grade boy toward the principal’s office. The 7-year-old student was not harmed.

“There’s certainly been quite a number of cases decided about ‘conduct unbecoming,’ but I think this is the first time the Court has really had to focus on that language as a legal standard,” said Richards' attorney JoEllen McComb.

In February 2009 Hurley-Richards saw three children, all siblings, running in the hall of Cardinal Valley Elementary School. At one point the 7-year-old boy began pulling his younger sister's hair. The teacher put her arm around the boy's back to move him toward the principal's office. He resisted and squirmed, and Hurley-Richards' hand unintentionally slid around the boy's neck/shoulder area.

Conduct unbecoming is one of the few causes a school district can cite in terminating the contract of a tenured public school teacher, along with insubordination, physical or mental disability, and neglect of duty.

Other Kentucky court cases that have cited “conduct unbecoming a teacher” involved bringing a gun onto school property, falsifying time sheets, and smoking marijuana with students.

Writing for the Court, Justice Daniel Venters said that Hurley-Richards' actions were “entirely reasonable.”

“Going forward I think we’ll see language from this opinion in the instructions that are given to teacher tribunals in cases in the future as they decide what conduct may fall within the purview of conduct unbecoming a teacher,” said McComb.

UPDATE at 12:45 pm: In a statement, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said district officials would meet with attorneys to review the decision “so we can adequately determine its impact on our policies and procedures.” 

The Supreme Court said Hurley-Richards is owed her full salary for the time she was suspended. She still teaches for the school district.