The Washington Times-Herald

October 4, 2013

Fears files suit against Pike County School Board

By Nate Smith
Times Herald

---- — EVANSVILLE — Former Otwell Principal Rick Fears has filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Pike County School Corporation.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Evansville, alleges wrongful termination by the board alleging wrongful termination, breach of contract and employment discrimination.

Fears was fired by the board on Sept. 3 after being placed on administrative leave on July 17, weeks before school was to begin.

The complaint said Fears had been "singled out and treated differently" than other employees of the school corporation because he spoke out concerning "the functionality of the board's plans." The complaint did not specify what that speech was, but said there will be evidence and witnesses to prove that claim.

"The plaintiff was held in a different standard that other teachers in the employ of the defendant, Pike County School Corporation, and was subjected to discipline for acts that were tolerated and/or accepted in other employees," the complaint read.

In the findings of fact statement released by the board in September, Fears was fired for allegedly not performing teacher evaluations, falsifying attendance records, insubordination and violating the Federal Education Right to Privacy Act. The suit counters the board's findings, saying the board found insufficient grounds for the cancellation of his contract "based on insubordination.

The suit also alleges the school corporation breached Fears' contract. A copy of the contract was included.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the board and also asks for a restraining order against the board from enforcing Fears' termination.

While principal at Otwell Elementary, Fears led one of the highest-performing schools in the state, according to ISTEP scores. The school has earned honors from the state and in 2011, was named a national Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. In the latest set of test scores from the 2013 ISTEP tests, all of Otwell's students in grades three through five passed the math portion of the test and all but two students passed the language arts portion.

Jim Issacs was named interim principal in place of Fears and started the year. The school corporation has 30 days respond to the complaint. Pike County Superintendent Suzanne Blake was out of the office. Mark Phillips, Fears' attorney, was also unavailable for comment.

The suit was first reported in The (Jasper) Herald.