Education

School board fires teacher amid controversy

The Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees voted last week to terminate the contract of a teacher after a high school principal was granted a restraining order against him.

During a special Dec. 18 meeting, school board members voted 4-2 to fire Los Banos High School English teacher Mark Duffy. Trustees Tommy Jones and Marlene Smith voted against the action. Duffy’s mother, trustee Carole Duffy, recused herself from the vote.

Kevin Little, Duffy’s attorney, said his client will appeal the school board’s decision to a review panel. The panel will be comprised of a district representative, an administrative law judge and a teacher’s union representative.

Superintendent Steve Tietjen declined comment.

Duffy, 58, was issued letters of reprimand from Los Banos High School Principal Ryan Hartsoch in April and June of 2013.

As part of a restraining order petition, the principal claimed Duffy stood outside of his home and made an obscene gesture with his middle finger and followed Hartsoch from his home or nearby to Los Banos High on 21 occasions from June 2013 to June 2014.

On July 25, Merced Superior Court Judge Donald Proietti issued a restraining order against Duffy, directing him to stay away from Hartsoch, his wife, 5-year-old daughter and 1- and 2-year-old sons.

Duffy, who was set to return to work from medical leave in September, was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave pending a school district investigation.

In November, Tietjen told the Enterprise that Duffy followed him home twice.

Stating that it is a personnel matter, school board President Anthony Parreira declined to state his reasoning for voting the district sever ties with Duffy.

Jones said he voted against terminating the contract because it appeared to be a vendetta Tietjen has against Duffy, stemming from the English teacher publicly speaking against the superintendent’s request to reassign former Los Banos High Principal Dan Martin. Tietjen was granted the request at a 2012 school board meeting after telling trustees he had “no confidence” in Martin.

“He went to the microphone, spoke against Tietjen. After that night they started going to his room every single day to evaluate him, that looks like harassment to me,” Jones said.

Jones, a retired history teacher, said Duffy’s evaluations were “excellent” before he spoke out at the meeting. Jones also said normal procedure is to have one evaluation visit in which problems may be noted and then a second later in the year to determine if the proper changes were made.

Smith said she did not vote in favor of termination because she did not feel the district showed adequate cause.

“I could not change a man’s career on not enough evidence,” Smith said.

Smith and Jones said they were unimpressed by the restraining order, both stating they’re easy to obtain. Little expressed similar sentiments about the order against his client.

“The restraining order issued was not based on threats, but just to mollify,” Little said.

Little also said Duffy never followed Tietjen home, but they may have been in the same place because of coincidence.

He said the district’s allegations are false and Tietjen failed to disclose to board members that Duffy is planning to sue him. Little said he is preparing a lawsuit against Tietjen on Duffy’s behalf that is not directly connected to the school district. Little said Duffy is considering suing Hartsoch as well.

Hartsoch could not be reached for comment.

Little rejected the idea that administrators may have given Duffy more scrutiny because his job performance had come into question.

“You don’t become six time teacher of the year if you’re a bad teacher,” Little said.

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