May a school entity terminate an educator if she does not “command respect and good will" of the school community?

Horosko v. Mt. Pleasant Township SD (1939)

Background: Ms. Horosko was a school teacher within the Mt. Pleasant Township School District (District). She was an instructor at the District's lower grade school in the country. Eighteen pupils were grouped into eight grades in this building. As a result of her actions while tutoring students and her competency test score, the District charged Ms. Horosko with incompetence and immorality.

 A dispute had existed for years between the District and Ms. Horosko concerning a restaurant operated by Ms. Horosko's husband. "In this restaurant beer was sold and a pin-ball and slot machine were maintained and dice were played. The restaurant was across the road and about one hundred and twenty five feet from the school." The restaurant was a lunch room and beer garden in which Ms. Horosko worked as a waitress and bartender after school hours and during the summer vacation.

Ms. Horosko would tutor several of her students within the restaurant. At these times she drank beer, served beer to the patrons, "shook dice with customers for drinks" and showed customers how to play the pin ball machine. 

In addition, Ms. Horosko scored a 43% on a competentcy test  administered by A. H. Howell, Superintendent of the District. 

The District discharged Ms. Horosko. Ms. Horosko appealed the District's action to the Common Pleas Court, where a trial was held producing the factual record and quotes reported here. The Common Pleas Court affirmed the District's discharge of Ms. Horosko.

Ms. Horosko appealed the Common Pleas Court decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Superior Court determined that School Boards may not always agree with the actions taken by their teachers, but the PA General Assembly "has greatly limited the discretionary power of school boards" Horosko v. Sch. Dist. of Mount Pleasant Twp. 135 Pa. Super. 102, 4 A2d 601 (1939). 

It reversed the Common Pleas Court and ordered Ms. Horosko reinstated by the District. The District appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Appeal issues to PA Supreme Court: Was the Common Pleas Court correct to affirm the District for discharging Ms. Horosko for immorality and incompetency under the School Code?

PA Supreme Court's Opinion: Section 1205 of the School Code identifies the only valid causes of termination of a school district professional employee. The Superior Court identified immorality and incompetency as reasons for discharge, but found that the role of the community's respect for the teacher was not conclusive evidence of incompetency. In an often quoted excerpt, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Superior Court by stating;

"It has always been the recognized duty of the teacher to conduct himself in such a way as to command the respect and good will of the community, though one result of the choice of a teacher's vocation may be to deprive him of the same freedom of action enjoyed by persons in other vocations. Educators have always regarded the example set by the teacher as of great importance...."

The Supreme Court continued on to define the terms incompetency and immorality by quoting four different dictionaries. The Court reversed the Superior Court and agreed with the Common Pleas' Court's affirmation of the District's discharge of Ms. Horosko.

Importance: This case is often quoted to show an educator must maintain the respect of the school community at large. However, the PA Superior Court disagreed with this interpretation and had previously ruled in favor of Ms. Horosko on the same set of facts. 

Caselaw is more subjective than government officials would normally admit.

Horosko v. Mt. Pleasant Township SD, 335 Pa 369, 6 A.2d 866 (PA Supreme Court, 1939), reversing 135 Pa.Super. 102, 4 A.2d 601,605 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1939). 

Attorney Leigh B. Maxwell represented Mt. Pleasant Township School District (District).
Attorneys Milford J. Meyer, Louis A. Fine and David J. Reedy represented Ms. Horosko.

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