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Court Rejects Firing of Teacher Over Campus Business Venture

January 09, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Brian Springer, a former Palos Verdes High School shop teacher who was fired three years ago in a dispute over his use of school equipment to manufacture sports equipment, has won a court decision that may force the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District to reinstate him to a teaching post.

In a ruling this week, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles overturned a lower court decision that upheld the district's right to dismiss Springer. Larry J. Frierson, the school lawyer handling the case, said district officials are considering whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Since losing his teaching post in early 1983, Springer, 45, has worked for the district in clerical and other non-teaching jobs pending the outcome of his case.

Springer, who was also an assistant track coach, was accused of using his metal shop class to make caddies for storing track starting blocks, in violation of district policies against conducting private enterprises on school property. He sold the caddies for personal profit to the district and other schools, according to court testimony.

Directed to Stop

Springer engaged in his commercial venture openly, the court record says, but apparently no one took notice until May, 1982, when the school's dean of students directed him to stop.

Springer's attorney, Richard J. Schwab, said Springer mentioned his private venture to the dean as a project that provided work experience for his shop students. He said Springer reimbursed the district for materials and utilities used to make the caddies.

After getting word from the dean, Schwab said, Springer agreed to stop making the caddies at school, but felt that he had an understanding to phase out the activity over a period of time. Several months later, the school principal learned of the venture and ordered Springer to remove it from the campus.

"Mr. Springer had a lot of back orders and he sort of got carried away by the excitement," Schwab said. "Certainly, he showed poor judgment, but considering his previously unblemished record of 16 years with the district, he should not have been fired."

Accused of Dishonesty

The district, in its notice of dismissal, charged Springer with dishonesty, evident unfitness for service and persistent violation of school regulations.

"The school district felt strongly that it did not have to tolerate this type of conduct," said Frierson, the school attorney.

Springer appealed his dismissal to the state Commission on Professional Competence, which is established under the state education code. The panel of an administrative law judge and two teachers found Springer's use of school equipment "reprehensible" but concluded that he had not been dishonest, that his fitness to teach was unimpaired and that he was contrite.

The panel unanimously ruled against dismissal and the district appealed to the Superior Court, which found adequate cause for firing Springer.

In overturning that decision this week, the appeals court determined that the consequences of Springer's "poor judgment" were not serious enough to warrant dismissal, particularly in view of his record with the district.

Who Pays Legal Costs?

No back pay is involved, but Springer's attorney said the district would be required to pay Springer's legal costs, which he said have yet to be figured. "But they will be quite high," Schwab said.

Frierson disputed that claim, contending that "payment of attorney's fees are not merited unless there is a substantial benefit to the public, rather than to an individual."

The district had no estimate of its legal costs. Springer called in ill on Wednesday, the district personnel office said, and could not be reached for comment.

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