A former Abington Heights school teacher fired for allegedly assaulting a student must appeal the decision before the school board before he can proceed with certain claims in a federal lawsuit, a judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion said William Yelland cannot seek damages for violations of his due process rights because he has not yet availed himself of all challenges he can file under an administrative proceeding with the district.
Yelland sued the district last year, alleging he was wrongly fired in connection with an April 2015 incident involving student Trey Koehler.
Yelland was charged with simple assault and endangering the welfare of a child for placing Koehler, then 15, in a choke hold.Yelland maintained the incident was innocent horseplay. A Lackawanna County jury deliberated for just 10 minutes in November 2016 before finding him not guilty of both charges.
Under federal civil rules, people who challenge their firings must first go through an administrative process with their employer. Yelland’s attorney, Jason Gosselin, sought an exception, arguing that the hearing before the board would be a “sham” because there’s no chance the board would reverse his firing. To do so would undermine the district’s defense of the lawsuit, Gosselin said.
Mannion rejected the argument, finding there is no evidence to support Yelland’s claim that the board has already decided the issue. The judge noted that, if the board does uphold his firing, Yelland can appeal that decision to the secretary of the State Department of Education and the Commonwealth Court.
The decision clears the way for the board to hold the hearing. No date has been set yet.
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