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CLAIBORNE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION v. NATHANIEL MARTIN

DECEMBER 03, 1986

CLAIBORNE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION
v.
NATHANIEL MARTIN, JR.



EN BANC

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

This appeal concerns a county school board's failure to rehire a long time high school teacher and guidance counselor who got crossways politically with the school board and the county superintendent of education. Even when all due deference is given to the School Board's authority in prerogatives in such matters, we are left with a record which reflects no rational basis for the decision not to reemploy the teacher. The Chancery Court ordered the School Board to offer the teacher a new contract with back pay. We affirm.

II.

 A.

 For over eleven years, Nathaniel Martin, Jr. was employed by the Claiborne County Board of Education and was assigned duties at the Port Gibson High School. For his first nine years, Martin was a social science instructor. For the next two and a half years, he served as a high school guidance counselor.

 On April 3, 1984, Dr. John C. Noble, Superintendent of Education for Claiborne County, advised Martin that he would not be reemployed for the school year 1984-1985. The reason given was

 because of a reduction in force in the area of his employment [guidance counselor]. The enrollment is less than 500 students and, therefore, only one counselor is required.

 Martin had apparently gotten wind of his impending non-reemployment months earlier, for on January 3, 1984, he wrote to Noble and asked that, if" the present enrollment doesn't warrant two counselors, "he be allowed to return to his former teaching position as a social science instructor. On January 25, 1984, Martin renewed this request in another letter to Superintendent Noble. It appears that there was a vacancy as social science instructor at Port Gibson High School. On February 6, 1984, Lewis A. Jones, Port Gibson High School Principal, filed with the superintendent a written recommendation that Martin be given that position, stating 'he did a good job in this area Eduring the nine years he previously taught] and I believe he will do the same." Dr. Noble declined the recommendation and, instead, the vacant social science instructor position was given to a teacher named Jimmy Curry. Superintendent Noble stated that he wanted to fill the social science position with someone qualified to teach in the economics area. Curry had three years teaching experience in economics at Hinds Junior College, Utica Branch, while Martin had no previous teaching experience in the area as such.

 Superintendent Noble's explanation for non-reemployment of Martin as a guidance counselor appears to have been tied solely to the accreditation standards of the Commission On Secondary Schools, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Those standards require that high schools having a student population between 300 and 499 have one half time guidance counselor. The record reflects that during the 1983-84 school year, the enrollment at Port Gibson High School was 401. According to the accreditation minimum standards, only one half time guidance counselor was required. At that time, Port Gibson High School had two guidance counselors, Martin and Mrs. Helen Barnes. Apparently Barnes was retained as the sole guidance counselor for the 1984-85 school year.

 There is no suggestion that Martin was incompetent, ineffective or otherwise disqualified from continuing in his position. Nothing in the record suggests that the counseling needs of the students of Port Gibson High School were thought to be any less for the school year 1984-85 than they had been for the previous three years, during which time the school had the services of two guidance counselors. There is no suggestion of a funding shortage or a work force cutback based upon budgetary considerations. No reason was ever offered why it was perceived by the Superintendent and the Board of Education to be in the best interest of the Port Gibson High School that the number of guidance counselors be reduced from two to one.

 Martin was first employed as guidance counselor in the 1981-82 school year. At that time he became the second counselor. Martin had earned his Master's Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Jackson State University and had completed a number of courses beyond that point. He held a AAA teaching certificate in both Social Science and in Guidance Counseling. Of interest is the fact that, during the three years Martin served as the second guidance counselor, Port Gibson High School never had as many as 500 students. Statistics reflect that.

 Year Number of Students

 1979-1980 444

 1980-1981 448

 1981-1982 432

 1982-1983 437

 1983-1984 401

 Following receipt of his non-reemployment notice, Martin requested a hearing before the Claiborne County Board of Education. That hearing was held on May 24, 1984. Miss. Code Ann. 37-9-101, et seq. (Supp.1985) Evidence adduced at the hearing has been summarized above.

 Martin sought to show that the reason for his non-reemployment was his past political opposition to several board members and the superintendent. Specifically, the record reflects that in previous years Martin had supported a recall petition brought against three board members. He had opposed the election of Dr. Noble as superintendent in 1983, apparently having favored the candidacy of then incumbent Joseph Travillion.

 When Martin first sought to show that his political activity may have been the basis for his non-reemployment, an objection by the School Board attorney was sustained by the School Board Chairman. The evidence was thereafter presented as follows:

 Q. You have had differences with Dr. Noble and the School Board in the past, have you not?

 A. Yes, I have.

 Q. The fact that you campaigned for the recall of three of ...


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