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FUESD likely losing appeal to reinstate fired teacher

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

When the new board of the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District meets for its organizational meeting on Monday, Dec. 12, there will likely be a new majority of representatives sworn to serve. And, along with the regular business agenda, there may be another major litigation for the new directors to consider.

At its last meeting on Nov. 7, the current board – which will likely have three of its five members replaced – agreed to a nearly $400,000 settlement and exit plan with former Superintendent Candace Singh in order to avoid a threatened lawsuit. The final day of her 11 years leading the district was on Nov. 30.

The new board, selected by voters on Nov. 8, will have Stacey McRae replacing Susan Liebes and Mary McBride replacing JoAnn Lopez. The newcomers had strong leads, but the final election certification is not to be released until today. In the other race, Diane Sebalj led incumbent Caron Lieber by a mere 14 votes.

The legal issue facing the new board about the district’s firing of teacher Jennifer Humphreys, who was dismissed for refusing mandatory weekly testing for COVID-19 while she was unvaccinated in October 2021. 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.

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

However, the FUESD appealed that decision to the Superior Court in San Diego in August. On Dec. 1, Judge Keri Katz ruled – tentatively – in favor of the 21-year veteran teacher, who hopes to be reinstated and receive back pay. Final orders from the judge were expected this week.

The school district could be liable for about $300,00 if indeed the judge rules in favor of Humphreys. That’s based on her salary and benefits for nearly a year and a half of nearly $200,000, and another $100,000-plus in combined attorney fees for the district and Humphreys’ legal counsel.

Neither the district’s legal counsel, Jonathan A. Pearl of Dannis Woliver Kelley, nor FUESD Board President Suzanne Lundin responded to inquiries about how the board might respond if the district indeed loses the case. The district could accept the loss, or it could appeal further.

That’s a big decision for the “rookie” board to make at the Dec. 12 meeting or sometime in the near future. In addition to the three new board members and Lundin, the fifth board member is Ricardo Favela who, like Lundin, was elected to serve through 2024.

Humphreys has worked for the district most recently in a third grade class at Frasier Elementary School. She is represented by Jonathan Y. Vanderpool of Smith Steiner Vanderpool.

“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 court 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.”

Humphreys has said she isn’t an anti-vaxxer and simply wants to return to the classroom.

 

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