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Woodlock v. Orange-Ulster BOCES

June 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brieant, J.

Memorandum and Order

This is a First Amendment relation case, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983, with due process violations claimed as well. Before this Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 21) filed on January 30, 2006. Opposition papers were filed on April 6, 2006, and reply papers were filed on May 15, 2006. The motion was fully submitted to the Court as of May 15, 2006.

The following facts are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion only.

On July 26, 2001, Defendant Orange-Ulster BOCES ("BOCES") appointed Plaintiff Mrs. Nancy Woodlock to the position of school counselor, effective September 4, 2001, at an annual salary of $42,661.00. When hired, Mrs. Woodlock, also a registered nurse, held two master's degrees in community mental heath and health services administration. She also possessed sixty-two graduate degree credits which satisfied the requirements necessary to become a certified school counselor. Since 1977, Mrs. Woodlock has provided care to mentally-disabled individuals, ages sixteen through adulthood.

During the 2001-2002 academic year, Plaintiff was assigned to the BOCES High School Crisis Room*fn1 , and Defendant Principal Jake McHale was her supervisor. McHale advised Mrs. Woodlock that she could confer with Mrs. Susan Murray-Tetz, the mental heath coordinator for BOCES school counselors, regarding student counseling issues. In this way, Mrs. Murray-Tetz acted as a liason between school counselors and the psychiatric team for BOCES, assisting counselors in obtaining additional resources for students and arranging staff development training.

In October 2001, based on her drug and alcohol credentials, BOCES administrators asked Mrs. Woodlock to assume the additional role of a Substance Abuse Counselor for a new BOCES drug and alcohol program called RESTART, which served students coming out of drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs. In the RESTART program, Mrs. Woodlock provided individual and group counseling to recently rehabilitated students. As a result of this assignment, Mrs. Woodlock split her workload between RESTART and the Crisis Room, reporting to two principals, McHale and Ms. Debbie Brunjes. During this academic year, Mrs. Woodlock received favorable evaluations and observations from both principals. Plaintiff also received a letter of appreciation from Principal Brunjes, acknowledging her "flexibility and dedication toward improving student outcomes" and her ability to "voice concerns and goals professionally and patien[tly] while waiting for advice and direction." Pl. Ex. F, Memorandum from Deborah Brunjes, dated Mar. 6, 2002.

During the 2002-2003 academic year, Plaintiff transferred within the district to another school counselor position at the Goshen Satellite Program for autistic students, under Principal Barbara Butler. There, in addition to the responsibilities Mrs. Woodlock had at BOCES, Mrs. Woodlock also reviewed the current goals contained in the counseling sections of each student's Individualized Education Plans ("IEPs") and projected program revisions for the upcoming year.

In the 2003-2004 academic year, Mrs. Woodlock was selected as the school counselor for the newly-opened BOCES Cornwall Satellite. Prior to taking that position, Plaintiff was advised that she would be working with the highest-functioning students, those who could benefit from the mainstreaming opportunities offered in a regular education setting. Superintendent Marguerite Flood advised Mrs. Woodlock that she was excited to have her at the Cornwall Satellite because Mrs. Woodlock had conducted her school counselor internship at Cornwall in 2000, and therefore had pre-established relationships with the Cornwall staff. Mrs. Flood also stated that since Mrs. Woodlock had prior experience working with Jake McHale, who would again be Mrs. Woodlock's supervisor at the satellite, the arrangement presented a "win-win" proposition. Pl. Ex. C, pp.86-87, and 89.

The BOCES Cornwall Satellite staff consisted of one school counselor, three teachers, three teacher's aides, a full time secretary, and off-site administrators. The off-site administrators at Cornwall were Principal McHale, and an administration student intern, Defendant Nancy Tambini-Wall. Mrs. Tambini-Wall did not have any supervisory experience prior to being placed in charge of the Cornwall Satellite. Because Mrs. Tambini-Wall was a student intern, and not an assistant principal, she was not to conduct staff performance observations or render independent policy decisions, though Plaintiff contends that she ran Cornwall with minimal or no supervision. She acted as the BOCES representative at the Cornwall site, met with staff, and made decisions concerning Cornwall. Mrs. Tambini-Wall advised Plaintiff that the Cornwall Satellite staff was to communicate any and all concerns to her, which she would then communicate to McHale; Plaintiff believed that because Cornwall did not have on-site administrative supervision, staff members were expected to call BOCES Campus in Goshen and attempt to locate an administrator to address concerns.

Mrs. Woodlock Raises Concerns:

In the fall of 2003, Plaintiff advised Mrs. Tambini-Wall that the failure to have a certified gym instructor assigned to the Cornwall Satellite was a violation of state education mandates. Mrs. Tambini-Wall, a former guidance counselor, disagreed, and stated that in any event she and Jake McHale were working on hiring a certified gym instructor. In January 2004, Mrs. Woodlock had another conversation with Defendant Tambini-Wall and raised concerns about the lack of a certified gym and a certified art instructor. Plaintiff specifically advised Mrs. Tambini-Wall that the Satellite's continued failure to provide certified art instruction violated state education mandates and students' IEP's; in response, Mrs. Tambini-Wall stated that BOCES had not contracted with Cornwall for the use of their gym facilities. Thus, the satellite-assigned students could not use the gym or swimming pool--there was apparently no response as to the art instructor query. Plaintiff contends that Superintendent Flood (not a party to this action) knew there was no gym or art instruction for the entire 2003-2004 academic year at Cornwall, and that Principal McHale knew, at the very least, that Cornwall students did not receive gym instruction during the 2003-2004 academic year. To Plaintiff's understanding, gym and art instruction were mandated instruction based on the student's IEPs and course requirements for all ninth grade students. Plaintiff made telephone calls to McHale regarding these issues; he did not return her calls.

From October 2003 to February 2004, Plaintiff called McHale and Mrs. Tambini-Wall to raise concerns about safety issues caused by a violent, traumatic brain injured student, "M.C." During this period, there were at least seven written communications regarding the student's escalating behavior. Plaintiff contends that student M.C.'s Monthly Medicaid Report shows that during a two week period in November 2003, the student was in crisis six times, disrupted instruction three times and engaged in impulsive behavior twice. Other concerns raised by Mrs. Woodlock include:

* On October 30, 2003, Plaintiff advised Defendant Tambini-Wall that student M.C. had smeared feces in the bathroom. Mrs. Tambini-Wall advised Mr. McHale but nothing was done because no one had seen the student commit the act.

* Also on October 30, 2003, Plaintiff advised Defendant Tambini-Wall that some students had inappropriately used the internet. Defendant McHale did not recall speaking to Mrs. Tambini-Wall concerning this issue.

* On November 13, 2003, Plaintiff faxed a notice to Mrs. Tambini-Wall stating that "boys attempt[ed] to light ...

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