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Lawsuit against IW school board, superintendent dismissed

ISLE OF WIGHT
On Wednesday in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court, Judge Robert Sandwich dismissed a lawsuit brought by Tammie Rollins-Hines, Isle of Wight County Schools’ former director of special education, against her former employer.

Sandwich issued the ruling after finding in favor of a demurrer filed by attorney Jeremy D. Capps of the Richmond-based firm Harman, Claytor, Corrigan and Wellman on behalf of the school board and superintendent. Capps had argued that a “breach of contractual duty of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” is not recognized as a cause of action in Virginia. A demurrer is a legal motion that acknowledges the facts submitted by the plaintiff, but contends that the facts are either irrelevant or insufficient to warrant ruling in the plaintiff’s favor. The suit had named both the current Isle of Wight school board and superintendent, Dr. Jim Thornton, as defendants.

Rollins-Hines’ attorney, H. Woodrow Crook of the Smithfield-based firm Crook and Pack P.C., had argued that Rollins-Hines was denied due process in 2016 when Thornton sent her a letter informing her that he would be recommending to the school board that she be reassigned from her administrative role to a teaching position, with a reduction in salary.

The reason Crook alleged his client was denied due process was because state law permits all public school employees to file a formal grievance with the exception of school principals, assistant principals and supervisors. School employees in these positions may be reassigned at-will, provided the division notifies the school board by June 15 and informs the employee of the decision in a written letter. The division is also required to provide the employee with an informal hearing with the superintendent, his or her designee or the school board on the matter if requested by the employee.

Capps acknowledged that this understanding of state law was correct and said that, as such, both Thornton and the school board had followed proper procedure in reassigning Rollins-Hines. He added that pursuant to Virginia Code 22.1-294, no cause need be given for the reassignment of a supervisor to a teaching position. He further added that Rollins-Hines had been notified in writing of Thornton’s decision and her optional hearing, but had chosen to take early retirement rather than go through the hearing.

During the proceedings, Crook said he hoped to change state law with this suit and give school employees in a supervisory role like Rollins-Hines a formal grievance procedure beyond the informal hearing currently mandated. After the proceedings, Crook said he would confer with his client on whether or not to appeal the ruling.