Niagara Gazette

February 21, 2013

Residency rulings favor Falls School District

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls school employees will need to abide by the district's residency rule for the foreseeable future.

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous decision Tuesday in favor of the district's hiring policy in two cases involving lawsuits brought on after firing two teachers deemed to violate the rule.

"The ruling upheld the policy and upheld the procedure the district went through in firing these individuals," Michael Perley, an attorney for the district said.

The cases decided Tuesday involved former high school English teacher Roxanne Adrian and Karri Beck-Nichols, a former production control manager in the administration. A third case, involving former high school guidance counselor Keli-Koran Luchey, was referred back to State Supreme Court in Niagara Falls "for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion."

The rulings stem from action taken by the district in 2009, when it terminated the employment of four administrators and two teachers for violating the terms of their employment, notably the district's residency requirement.

Under the direction of attorney Angelo Massaro, the district spent months investigating the residences of the six staff members and determined their primary domiciles were not those listed in their personnel files, Perley said. 

After the decisions, the district was sued and was able to uphold only one of the six dismissals. The two faculty members — Luchey and Adrian — also filed suit for wrongful termination due to a lack of pre-termination forms, specifically a 3020-a form, not being completed.

Tuesday's rulings not only upheld the residency policy but also answered questions about the use of the  3020-a, which it deemed only necessary in dismissal due to performance or disciplinary means.

Perley said the results Tuesday were good for the district but also served a greater purpose, providing much-needed guidance concerning the policy and its enforcement.

"We went into this seeking guidance on four or five points," Perley said. "We needed to know if the policy itself and the manner in which it was implemented is constitutional. The court upheld that it is. Second, we needed to learn if what the district did to enforce it was constitutional. They ruled what Massaro did actually exceeded what the district was responsible for under the policy. We also needed to know if the school board acted appropriately and what the standard of review was. They found there was sufficient evidence for the board to act as it did, dismissing the employees."

Anthony Brock of the New York State United Teachers represented both Adrian and Luchey in proceedings, while Terry Sugrue represented Beck-Nichols. Neither were reached by deadline for comment.