Protection of the Due Process Rights of Public School Superintendents

A Public School District Board of Directors may not co-mingle its investigative and adjudicative functions.

Dr. Carlinda Purcell v. Reading School District, 167 A.3d 216 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2017) appeal denied 182 A.3d 997 (2018).

Public school superintendents in Pennsylvania are entitled to due process in disciplinary actions, which includes the right to disciplinary proceedings free from even the appearance of bias and partiality. In particular, the Court’s opinion means that School Board members who initiate complaints and/or perform investigative functions, may not also participate in the Board’s deliberations on the question of whether the superintendent’s conduct allows termination under the Public School Code. In this case, the same Board members who drew up charges against Dr. Purcell testified against her at the hearing and then participated in the vote to terminate her. The Commonwealth Court reversed the School Board’s decision and ruled that “what really occurred was deficient process, or no due process at all.” The Court sent the matter back to the School Board for further proceedings consistent with its decision.