Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Decision on fired teacher's case expected Dec. 1

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

A Fallbrook teacher who was dismissed by the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District in October 2021 will have her day in court on Thursday, Dec. 1 as she continues her fight against the termination.

Jennifer Humphreys was dismissed for refusing mandatory weekly testing for COVID-19 while she was unvaccinated. The Commission on Professional Competence (CPC) ruled by a 3-0 vote in June that her dismissal should be reversed, and she could return to teaching with back pay. However, the FUESD appealed that decision to the Superior Court in San Diego in August.

Humphreys has worked for the district for 21 years, most recently as a third grade teacher at Frasier Elementary School. She’s said she wants to return to work.

Her attorney, Jonathan Y. Vanderpool of Smith Steiner Vanderpool, filed a “cross-writ” in hopes Judge Keri Katz would order the district to immediately reinstate and reimburse Humphreys. The judge declined the request at a Sept. 20 hearing in San Diego.

Vanderpool said the judge has reviewed documents from both sides and is expected to announce her legal decision during the Dec. 1 court hearing, which begins at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. C-74 on the sixth floor, 330 W. Broadway, San Diego. He explained the judge won’t repeat the CPC’s work but that she is reviewing those proceedings.

In a cross-writ petition filed with the court, Vanderpool noted that the members of the CPC panel issued their unanimous decision denying both dismissal charges on June 3. He said CPC decision recites in detail the factual background of the case, the district’s evidence (including the state’s public health order prescribing testing compliance by Oct. 15, 2021), communications about the public health order, and meetings between Humphreys and district officials preceding the dismissal charges and suspension.

The commission’s report also includes Humphreys’ six-page testimony, burdens and standards of proof, Education Code provisions and district policies.

The school district’s attorney, Jonathan A. Pearl of Dannis Woliver Kelley explained the district’s position in appealing the CPC decision:

“The commission should have upheld Ms. Humphreys’ dismissal from district employment. The commission found that Ms. Humphreys willfully refused to perform regular assignments without reasonable cause when she refused to follow the testing requirements of the state public health order. The commission ruled that ‘there is no question’ that the district ‘was required to comply with the CDPH order,’ that Ms. Humphreys ‘failed to communicate,’ ‘ignored repeated requests to get tested,’ and acted ‘insubordinate.’ Her willful refusal to test occurred when we were in the midst of the pandemic and without vaccines for so many of the district’s students.”

The CPC report stated, “It is quite evident that the district rushed to dismiss respondent.”

“Humphreys has admitted her poor decisions in choosing not to respond to three emails over a six-week period before the CDPH’s order took effect and for staying Miranda-warning-like silent at the Sept. 28, 2021, meeting precipitating her being directed on leave,” Vanderpool said in his brief. “She also professed sincere regret for not knowing what she didn’t know about the testing she could and should have undertaken, wherever and however she chose, prior to being served with immediate suspension.”

Humhreys has said she isn’t an anti-vaxxer.

The CPC heard testimony from Humphreys and her team, as well as the district’s position before issuing its 28-page decision this summer. Summarized, it said Humphreys should have been given a more precise warning about the consequences of not testing before being terminated.

Humphreys’ attorney’s response to the district’s appeal to the CPC decision quotes California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal cases holding that administrative agency findings are afforded a “strong presumption of correctness.”

The district argues that because the CPC determined Humphreys had refused to vaccinate or test prior to and during an accommodations meeting convened Oct. 4, 2021, the immediate suspension for willful refusal was appropriate, such that she is not entitled to reimbursement for the unpaid, unbenefited suspension of any duration.

Vanderpool is asking not only for reinstatement and reimbursement of her full salary, but also CalSTRS retirement service credits, employer and employee CalSTRS contributions to which she would have been entitled if she had been working during the period, and interest on her still unpaid salary.

He is also asking that attorney’s fees be paid by the District per the Education Code.


Reader Comments(0)