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Pennell v. Board of Education





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Gallatin County; the Hon. Don A. Foster, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 6, 1985.

Donna Pennell, a tenured teacher, sought a writ of mandamus compelling the board of education of Equality Community Unit School District No. 4 (the board) to assign her to a full-time schedule of courses. She also requested damages. The circuit court of Gallatin County denied the writ but held that plaintiff did not lose her tenure status as a result of her reduction to part-time status. Plaintiff appeals. Defendant cross-appeals regarding plaintiff's tenure status.

The facts involved were largely undisputed. Mrs. Pennell obtained a high school teaching certificate entitling her to teach grades 6 through 12 in April 1972. In August 1972 she received a special type 10 certificate allowing her to teach library science in grades kindergarten through 12.

Mrs. Pennell was hired by the defendant beginning with the 1972-73 school year. She taught library science, one class of seventh-grade language arts (comprising literature, English, and spelling) and had three study halls and a planning period also assigned to her. During the 1973-74 school year, she served as the high school librarian, taught one class of general business, and had three study halls and a planning period. In the years 1974 through 1980, Mrs. Pennell served as the full-time librarian at both the high school and the elementary school. During this time period, Mrs. Pennell also supervised study halls. On January 2, 1980, Mrs. Pennell requested and was granted a maternity leave for the remainder of the 1979-80 school term.

On March 20, 1980, the board met to discuss staffing for the following school year. There the superintendent, Mr. Oxford, recommended employing a half-time librarian. The board approved the superintendent's suggestions; however, no mention was made at this meeting that it was Mrs. Pennell's position that was to be reduced or that she was honorably dismissed from her full-time position. A formal resolution was subsequently prepared to conform to the actions of the board. However, the resolution was neither presented to nor passed by the board in open session.

The superintendent then prepared a tentative schedule for the 1980-81 school year. The tentative schedule had a part-time teacher and a teacher with less seniority than Mrs. Pennell teaching seventh- and eighth-grade language arts. After Mrs. Pennell learned of this schedule, she contacted the superintendent and asked that she be assigned the language arts courses. (Teachers with academic subjects were given a planning period. If Mrs. Pennell had been assigned the two language arts courses and a planning period she would have retained her full-time position.)

The superintendent informed Mrs. Pennell that he did not think she was qualified for the language arts position. However, after checking with the regional superintendent, he admitted that she was qualified but informed her that he still did not intend to recommend her for the position. He then rearranged the schedule so that teachers with more seniority than Mrs. Pennell were scheduled to teach the language arts courses. Mrs. Pennell attended the August 1980 board meeting and there requested a full-time teaching position. However, the board accepted the superintendent's revised schedule, and she remained at half-time status.

During the 1981-82 school year, Mrs. Pennell was hired as a half-time teacher. Another teacher was also hired as a part-time teacher. That teacher worked fewer hours than Mrs. Pennell did and was paid more. When Mrs. Pennell asked for additional compensation, the board further reduced her hours.

In the spring of 1982, Mrs. Pennell informed the superintendent that she would receive her elementary 03 certificate in the summer of 1982 and that she would like a full-time elementary position for the 1982-83 school year. She registered her elementary certificate with the regional superintendent in July 1982 and gave a copy of the certificate to Mr. Oxford. However, the board denied Mrs. Pennell's request and hired a part-time elementary teacher, whereas Mrs. Pennell was again assigned to a part-time library position.

In March 1983, the board voted to reduce Mrs. Pennell to a two-sevenths position for the 1983-84 school year, and the part-time elementary school teacher was dismissed. Mrs. Pennell wrote a letter to the board requesting a full-time position but received a letter from the board refusing her request.

For the 1983-84 school year, approximately six teachers with less seniority in the district than Mrs. Pennell were hired in part- and full-time capacities.

In July 1983, Mrs. Pennell filed her petition for writ of mandamus asking that she be assigned a full-time teaching position and awarded ...

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