JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A veteran Duval County math teacher who allegedly called students lazy ni**** and other profanities could soon be back in class despite attempts by school officials to send her packing.
Fifty-one-year-old Joyce Quiller was fired by the Duval County School District in February for repeatedly denigrating students by calling them “stupid” and “ignorant,” drawing complaints from parents about her bad language, Florida’s News4JAX reports.
A judge ruled last month, however, that district officials did not follow a progressive discipline policy in the teachers union contract that requires a three-step system of punishment, and should have suspended the 21-year educator without pay, the news site reports.
“The School Board skipped step three and went directly to termination even though, if the allegations were true, they would have amounted to what is considered a minor offense,” Reginal Luster, Quiller’s legal consultant, told News4JAX.
“Not some type of severe misconduct on behalf of Ms. Quiller. It does not warrant termination.”
The decision to terminate Quiller’s employment should be up to elected officials on the school board, but union contract provisions bind school leaders to illogical work rules that often let teachers slide for bad behavior.
And Quiller has been sliding.
Over the last 13 years, school officials have warned Quiller at least three times about inappropriate language with students, but “the administrative judge found that the majority of those allegations were not credible at all and my client had denied using that particular language,” Luster said.
Students and parents, however, are telling a different story.
According to one complaint, Quiller allegedly told students “You are all some lazy ni***** for coming to class late.” Another student reported that he forgot to bring a pencil to class, prompting Quiller to ask “What is the point in coming to the mother f****** class if you do not bring materials?”
Quiller’s union attorney told News4JAX that the school board could find a legal reason to fire Quiller despite the judge’s ruling, but she could again appeal her termination.
The case is a perfect example of how union job protections put school employees’ “rights” ahead of the school district’s mission to educate students in a productive environment. In far too many school districts across the country, wayward educators are reinstated by administrative judges despite egregious behavior.
In some places, like New York City, Los Angeles and others, educators with a history of abusing or developing inappropriate relationships with students are ordered back to work, though they are often banished to positions with no contact with students.
Regardless, the overly protective union contract provisions and tenure laws that shield these types of bad actors ultimately cost school districts a lot of money in legal fees and substitute expenses to keep educators employed that don’t deserve to work with students.
The Duval County school board now has a decision to make.
They can stick with their decision to fire Quiller, ignore the judge’s recommendation, and send a message that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated. Or they can bend to the teachers union and follow the judge’s ruling to reinstate her, further emboldening other educators who believe their employment is more important than their students’ success.