Appeals court affirms reinstatement of Scotlandville Magnet High School principal

By Mary Ann Magnell | Aug 1, 2018

BATON ROUGE – A Louisiana appeals court recently affirmed a district court decision reversing the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s termination in 2015 of Dr. Calvin Nicholas, principal of Scotlandville Magnet High School, for an alleged violation of the district’s corporal punishment policy.

In its June 22 opinion, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal also ordered that the appeal cost, listed as $4,266, be paid by the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.  

Nicholas was terminated by the school board after he had attempted to intervene in an altercation among students on Aug. 31, 2015. The incident “initially occurred between two students but had escalated as other students became involved in the fight,” and  Nicholas “struck one of the students on the backside with a wooden dowel wrapped in electrical tape” to “gain the student’s attention in order to break up the fight,” court documents said.

Nicholas then sought judicial relief and the 19th Judicial District Court for East Baton Rouge Parish reversed the school board's decision to terminate Nicholas. The district court ordered the school board to reinstate Nicholas with “full back pay, emoluments of office, and benefits restored retroactive to his date of termination (Sept. 24, 2015), immediately reinstating Dr. Nicholas as the principal of the high school,” court documents said.

The school board appealed the decision, stating that the district court “abused its discretion and substituted its judgment for that of the disciplinary hearing officer.”

The appeals court, in affirming the district court decision, found that although the school board prohibits corporal punishment, the school board “expressly allows its educators and administrators to use ‘reasonable physical force and restraint’ to stop a disturbance threatening physical injury to others, to obtain possession of dangerous or contraband objects from students, for the purpose of self-defense or for the protection of persons or property.” 

The filing further stated that "reasonable force and restraint" was not defined in the student handbook. 

The court also noted that Nicholas had not received training on how to break up a fight in accordance with the school board’s policy prohibiting corporal punishment. 

In the opinion, the appeals court found “no rational basis” for the school board’s determination that Nicholas had intended to inflect corporal punishment on a student and that the termination of his “tenured employment” based on the “alleged violation” of the policy that prohibited corporal punishment was not supported by “substantial evidence” and was an “arbitrary decision and therefore, an abuse of the school board’s discretion.” 

An additional statement within the appeals court filing noted that in the video of incident, Nicholas was carrying a stick and made “audible contact” with one of the students, and after being struck on the rear-end, the “student immediate rises to his feet and stops fighting.” 

The filing noted that Nicholas “was making contact in an effort to break up a fight between two nearly adult-sized students,” and his actions illustrated "reasonable physical force and restraint" to prevent a physical injury to others and to stop a disturbance.   

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