Dismissed Sullivan Co. teacher Matthew Hawn to appeal firing before school board

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Photo: Matthew Hawn after 3rd day of dismissal appeal hearing August 18.

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Following an independent review of his dismissal, former Sullivan County Schools teacher Matthew Hawn plans to take the next legal step against the school system.

The last chapter in Hawn’s story related to the Sullivan County school system ended in October, when an independent mediator sided with the school and upheld the decision to terminate Hawn’s tenured employment with the system.

Tennessee law provides only one more option past school board review for tenured teachers.

According to Tennessee Code Title 49 Section 5-512, tenured teachers have a right to appeal their termination within 30 days, upon which an impartial hearing officer will hear the case and determine if the director of schools was justified in the employee’s firing.

In this case, “impartial” means the officer has “no history of employment with the board or director of schools, no relationship with any board member and no relationship with the teacher or representatives of the teacher.”

Once Dale Conder Jr., the independent officer in Hawn’s case, said the system “met its burden for establishing its grounds for terminating Matthew Hawn,” Hawn told News Channel 11 that his attorney submitted an appeal to the school board to move to the next step of the process.

Within the same Tennessee law, teachers have the right to bring their case to the school board within 10 working days. The board will look at the evidence submitted by the director of schools and determine again if his firing was justified.

Hawn’s hearing will take place Dec. 14, at 4:30 p.m. within the Sullivan County School Board Meeting Room in Blountville. Hawn released the following statement in regards to the upcoming appeal:

“The complaint presented by the former director of Sullivan County Schools in no way accurately reflects how I taught my Contemporary Issues class in the 20-21 school year. I continue to disagree with the assertion made by certain administrators throughout this case that “varying viewpoints” concerning race must fit into a particular political belief system. Any premise that would classify different ideas and perspectives as simply “liberal” or “conservative” only contributes to the political divide. A divide I have successfully kept out of my classroom for 16 years. Furthermore, I have never asked my students their political affiliations nor graded them on subscribing to a belief or idea presented in class. The goal of my contemporary issues class is to challenge students to think critically about problems we face as a community, as a nation, and as a world. I continue to believe our students should have the opportunity to listen to and hear from varying perspectives and question them as they learn. When presenting my case on December 14th, I believe the members of the Sullivan County BOE will understand this distinction and recognize my efforts in creating a classroom environment that asks our students to evaluate, analyze, and think critically about the issues of our modern society.”

Matthew Hawn, former teacher and coach for Sullivan County Schools

In the appeal, review officer Conder Jr. said the school was correct in finding Hawn insubordinate after multiple disciplinary actions.

According to subsection c(4) of the law, the school board can hold a majority vote to send the appeal back to acquire more evidence, sustain the decision, change the penalty or reverse the decision entirely.

Once the board has decided, any party in the case can take it to Chancery Court in Sullivan County to appeal the decision.

Chancery court holds jurisdiction over multiple areas of civil litigation, and Tennessee law says the Chancery judge will hold a ‘de novo” hearing of the case, which the Cornell Legal Information Institute defines as a decision reached without consideration of previous case outcomes.

This means that while the full record of evidence will be submitted, a Sullivan County Chancery judge will not use the judgment of the director of schools, review officer or school board to make their decision.

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