Teacher’s feud with principal prompts court ruling

PORTLAND, Ore. — After resigning from the Central Linn School District, teacher Charles Talbott showed up on opening day with a present for the principal — one that took a simmering feud with his former boss all the way to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The gift Talbott had for the principal was a book: “The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch).” He also delivered a sharp reply to a parent who had written a complaint about him when he was still teaching there. In that note, Talbott said the parent had misspelled “complaint,” and added, “Please see (your 7th-grade daughter) for correct spelling!”

The principal and the parent filed complaints against Talbott with the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission. They alleged that Talbott’s actions were a breach of his professional responsibilities. The principal also alleged that Talbott kept a disorganized classroom, failed to keep grades and lied on the employment application for the new teaching job he secured after leaving Central Linn.

The case went before an administrative law judge, who found that the teaching commission hadn’t proved any of its allegations.

The teaching commission appealed, and the case went to the Oregon Court of Appeals. The court ruled this past week that, yes, the letter to the student’s parent was “gross neglect of duty,” but that the book and his answers on the employment application were not.

Tensions between Talbott and the principal flared in 2006. The football coach let a player who was facing suspension participate in a game. The school district asked the coach to resign. The school board met, Talbott spoke in the coach’s favor and the board voted to keep the coach.

The 2007-08 school year approached, and Talbott decided to seek a new teaching job.

He interviewed in North Santiam. He answered questions about his employment history. He said he hadn’t left a school-related job while the subject of an inquiry, and he hadn’t been fired for allegations of professional misconduct, but he was the subject of an ongoing inquiry.

He got the job.

Then, Sept. 4, 2007, the first day of school at Central Linn, Talbott went back to the school where he used to teach. He dropped off gifts for former students and his complaint about the parent who had complained about him.

Then he went to see the principal.

He asked her for a reference letter. Then “he told her his low opinion of her work as principal,” according to the court of appeals ruling. And he gave her the book, with two bookmarks: “Don’t Try This at Work: Ten Ways to Alienate Your Staff” and “Bad Boss Behavior 10: Being a Jealous Julie.”

The court of appeals found that the book didn’t breach his professional responsibilities, but the letter to the parent did.

The case was remanded back to the teaching commission, which will decide whether to pursue disciplinary action on the sole complaint still before them, that of Talbott’s letter to the parent.

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