Recent Developments in Missouri Regarding Sexual Misconduct

A Missouri court ruled that a public school board acted properly in dismissing a teacher for immoral conduct rendering him unfit to teach.

Church Law and Tax1999-03-01

Sexual Misconduct

A Missouri court ruled that a public school board acted properly in dismissing a teacher for immoral conduct rendering him unfit to teach. A father called the police when his 14-year-old daughter did not return home one evening. The police suspected that the girl was in the home of one of her teachers. They went to the home, saw no lights or movement in the home, and rang the doorbell. A few moments later the teacher appeared, wearing only his underpants. When asked if the girl were in his home, the teacher replied that she was not. The police officers asked if they could come in an look around, but the teacher refused. After the officers left, they remained in a location where they could observe the home. A short time later they saw a girl run out of the home. One of the officers apprehended her, and returned her to her family. The school board later voted to dismiss the teacher for immoral conduct. He appealed his dismissal, and a state appeals court ruled that the school board acted properly in dismissing him. The court noted that state law permits public school teachers to be dismissed for a number of grounds, including “immoral conduct.” The court concluded:

Immoral conduct has been held to be conduct that renders a teacher unfit for the performance of his duties; conduct rendering a teacher unfit to teach. The school board could have concluded that [the teacher’s] actions in hiding the presence of a 14-year-old girl in a darkened residence in the … early morning hours, and in denying her presence when confronted by the police, did not demonstrate the morals required of a person employed to teach and coach children of the same approximate age. The board had reason to question the teacher’s motives in view of his dress when confronted by police ….

The court added that the school board was understandably concerned “about the possibility of similar future conduct with other students.”

Application. This case suggests that employees and volunteers may be dismissed for suspected but not proven inappropriate sexual contact with minors. The teacher adamantly denied any inappropriate contact with the girl, but the school board and court both concluded that even if no improper sexual contact could be proven, the teacher was properly dismissed for his indiscretion in having a 14-year-old girl alone in his home late at night with the lights out while he was wearing only his underwear. Hamm v. Poplar Bluff School District, 955 S.W.2d 27 (Mo. App. 1997). [Termination of Employees, Negligence as a Basis for Liability]

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