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A Superior Court judge ruled last week that a San Diego teacher who was first convicted of child molestation, then freed after his convictions were overturned, is still “unfit to teach.”
That would give San Diego Unified School District the legal backing to fire the teacher, who had successfully fought his firing in an earlier appeal.
The case is one window into the complicated world of teacher firings. After the school board decides to fire a teacher, he or she can appeal to a special panel, then on to Superior Court and an appeals court. Firings can be lengthy and expensive — some principals and superintendents say too much so — and afford public school teachers more protection than if they were “at will” employees.
Thad Jesperson had been put on trial three times before his conviction was thrown out because of jury misconduct and inadequate legal representation. After his convictions were reversed more than two years ago, San Diego Unified decided to terminate Jesperson for immoral conduct and unfitness for service.
The school district alleged that Jesperson had “engaged in lewd and lascivious acts” with four female students, the same allegations that led to his criminal charges, according to court documents. His teaching credential had lapsed while he was incarcerated, according to court documents.
Jesperson contested the charges before a panel called the Commission on Professional Competence, which hears teacher terminations. He argued that he never engaged in misconduct with any child and that trying to fire him based on allegations that had been overturned in court was “double jeopardy.”
In February, the panel concluded that there was no cause to dismiss Jesperson, concluding that there was too little evidence to show that he had inappropriately touched a child the way she had testified. Only one of the students was called to testify.
The school district fought the finding in Superior Court. Attorney Jon Vanderpool, who is representing Jesperson, argued in a legal filing that the classroom layout and present witnesses made it implausible that Jesperson had touched the girl as alleged and that her testimony was not credible or consistent.
“Because they did not find Jesperson touched Emily inappropriately, no measure of unfitness, immoral conduct, or violation of regulations was demonstrated by the District,” Vanderpool wrote.
But Judge William R. Nevitt, Jr. ruled against the disciplinary panel that had backed Jesperson, saying its finding was “contrary to the weight of the evidence.” Nevitt concluded that the evidence showed the girl had been touched inappropriately, which “constitutes immoral conduct making him unfit to teach.”
Jesperson now has the option of appealing the decision. Both Vanderpool and Andra Donovan, the chief attorney for San Diego Unified, declined to comment on the case.
To better understand what job protections teachers have and how the process works, check out our explainer on teacher tenure. You can also check out the TV version thanks to our media partners at NBC 7/39.
Please contact Emily Alpert directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.