It wasn’t what the evaluations said. It was what they did not say.

Most people don’t like confrontation. Most supervisors don’t like to give an employee negative feedback. Educators love to give positive reinforcement, and sometimes fail to say the hard things that need to be said in a performance evaluation. Every now and then a court case shines a bright light on this bad habit.

Consider how Ms. Herron’s situation turned around in just 12 days:

*May 5, 2018: The assistant principal completed Ms. Herron’s evaluation, noting that this teacher’s aide “meets or exceeds the standards and expectations of Trenton Special School District” in all categories and does a “great job.” This was the fourth evaluation of Ms. Herron’s work, and each evaluation included this same language.

*May 10, 2018: Ms. Herron calls the state’s Child Abuse Hotline alleging that IEPs are not being followed due to inadequate staffing.

*May 14, 2018: The state shows up at the district to do an investigation based on Ms. Herron’s report.

*May 16, 2018: Ms. Herron’s supervisors recommend that her contract not be renewed. Note: in Texas teacher aides usually do not have contracts. Apparently in this Tennessee district they do.

*May 17, 2018: Ms. Herron receives notice from the superintendent that her contract would not be renewed.

Wow. Things turned pretty rapidly for Ms. Herron, from “great job” to “don’t let the door hit you from behind.” Given the timeline, and the report of the failure to implement IEPs, it looks like the district may have punished Ms. Herron for advocating for the rights of students with disabilities. If proven, that would be a case of disability discrimination in violation of Section 504.

So when Ms. Herron sued, the district countered by offering some legitimate reasons for the nonrenewal. Ms. Herron complained a lot. She talked about the state investigation when she was told not to. She created a negative environment at the school. The court acknowledged that those would be legitimate reasons to nonrenew the contract of a teacher’s aide. But that’s when those evaluations came back to bite the district. It wasn’t what the evaluations said. It was what they did not say. Key Quote:

Although Defendant asserts that she was constantly complaining about her role and created a negative environment at the school, neither of these problems were noted in her evaluations. Defendant argues that [the special education supervisor] testified that Plaintiff would not take direction from anyone, and [the principal] testified that Plaintiff breached the confidentiality of students with disabilities by discussing their IEPs with other staff members. Despite their testimony that these issues motivated their recommendations that [the superintendent] not renew Plaintiff’s contract, neither of these problems were noted in Plaintiff’s evaluations. (Emphasis added).

Evaluating employee performance is a critical task, with a direct impact on the quality of services your district provides to the students. Tell the truth. This one is Herron v. Trenton Special School District, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Tennessee on June 4, 2020. We found it at Special Ed Connection, 76 IDELR 246.


Tomorrow: Another qualified immunity case