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Messick vs. Ripon Unified
Dismissal hearing over refusal to teach English learners
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RIPON  - A beloved 30-year Ripon High performing arts teacher is fighting for her job after refusing to comply with district orders to obtain certification needed to prove she can teach Spanish-speaking students who are learning English.

A hearing that started Monday pits the Ripon Unified School District board against Terry Messick. The board contends it had no choice but to dismiss Messick because they could be sued by the state for not forcing all teachers to comply with Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) requirements.

At one point during Monday’s hearing, retired Superintendent Leo Zuber testified that Messick’s refusal to take the certification course made her “unfit as a teacher.” He also testified he believed some of those students who speak primarily in Spanish were “hurt” because they couldn’t take her classes due to Messick’s refusal to take CLAD courses.

Zuber also emphasized that it was essentially non-debatable as the state made it a condition of Messick’s continued employment.

A California Teachers’ Association attorney and an attorney representing the Ripon Unified School District sparred Monday in the dismissal hearing of the veteran Ripon High School performing arts teacher.

It was the first of as many as five days of hearings that will address the conduct of the music teacher who has also directed numerous high school plays at the school during her tenure.  The proceedings are being held in the high school multi-purpose auditorium centered on her need to create second language skills to better work with her students.

Overseeing the case is administrative law judge Marilyn Woolard.  Making up the three-member panel are the school district’s pick, Russell K. Sperling, a music teacher from San Diego, and Dovina Keiser who was selected to serve by the California Teachers’ Association.

Judge Woolard has served as an administrative law judge out of the regional Office of Administrative Hearings in Sacramento since 2005.  She received her juris doctorate degree from the Golden Gate University School of Law having received the required training to conduct mediations and administrative hearings.

Did Messick refuse
to obey school laws?

The dismissal actions revolves around Messick’s  alleged reluctance and refusal to take course work three years ago that would have led to CLAD certification under the Cross Cultural Language and Academic Development requirement the district required of its teaching personnel.

Messick is facing termination under allegations of unprofessional conduct and being unfit for serving as a teacher under the dictates of California Education Code.  She is also being challenged for refusal to obey school laws.

It was explained that by taking the courses that would have prepared her to teach (ESL) English as a Second Language, students who would elect to take her classes would have been better served.         

Zuber was the lone witness testifying against Messick on Monday. He was questioned by school district attorney  Marleen L. Sacks of the Pleasanton law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Rudd and Romo.  Zuber testified during the afternoon hours with the morning dedicated to organizing hearing paper work.

Cross examining was Messick’s California Teachers’ Association attorney Thomas Driscoll, Jr. of Lodi.

Driscoll argued against the merits of the case saying the collective bargaining agreement between the district and teacher’s association years ago mentioned nothing about dismissal when a teacher didn’t take the CLAD course work.  It only mentioned the stipend they would receive for achieving the certification, he said.

Zuber told the panel that starting in 2001 the administration told counselors not to place ESL students in her room.  As time went on he asked district administrator Lisa Boje’ to check to see how many teachers had not taken their CLAD course work.  There were six teachers who needed the added sessions. Five of them reportedly went on to take the district required classes.  The school board had first voted to dismiss Messick in 2006, Zuber said.

Zuber explained that he was aware of a couple students who were removed from her class room because of the communications barrier due to being Spanish speaking with limited English skills.  He added that she requested a second teacher in performing arts who would be able to better communicate with the students, however he felt that would create an illegal segregated classroom setting.

Zuber also noted that he had offered a reduced teaching schedule to allow her more time to take the CLAD sessions.  He concurred that she had felt she was too busy to be able to take the time.

Zuber argued things
change over 30 years

He argued that “things change” over 30 years of education and it is important that instructors update their course work standards at least every 10 years.   The world changes, students change and parents change, he said.

Zuber responded to the attorney for the district saying he feels that Messick is “unfit to be a teacher” and confirmed that he had earlier supported her termination.  In his tenure as superintendent Zuber said teachers have often been certified to meet the needs of the students.  

 “Mrs. Messick has consistently chosen not to do that,” he added.

He said that he feels students have been hurt by not being able to take her classes, noting that she has not acted as an appropriate role model as a teacher to her peers.

Attorney Driscoll argued that between 2008 and now there has been no CLAD requirement for his client.  He added in the three back-to-back agreements there has been no CLAD directive to take the course work.

Sacks responded saying there are many school rules and regulations that are not included in bargaining documents arguing that Driscoll’s position was irrelevant. “Just because we negotiate doesn’t mean we have to include it in collective bargaining agreements.  The district is going to have dozens and dozens of rules and regulations,” she said.

Driscoll responded, saying, “Your honor, that is a complete smoke screen” referencing her argument.

The hearing continues today at 10 a.m. when former Ripon administrator Lisa Boje’ is expected to join Zuber in offering her testimony in the case seeking Messick’s dismissal.