A Woodlawn Middle School teacher lost his fight to keep his job early Wednesday morning when, after a 10-hour closed-door hearing, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board upheld six of the seven “willful neglect of duty” charges leveled against him.
In a written statement released Wednesday afternoon, Nikos Maris and his attorney, Winston DeCuir Sr., said they plan to continue to pursue litigation they filed Aug. 16 seeking Maris’s reinstatement, back pay and financial damages.
Maris has claimed he is being punished for reporting alleged misuse of the school district’s standardized testing system, known as Edusoft. In their statement, Maris and DeCuir suggested the board largely avoided that issue.
“School Board members did not show any interest in determining the academic issues concealed behind the superintendent’s allegations of willful neglect of administrative duties,” the statement says.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said DeCuir raised the issue repeatedly during the hearing, but Rutledge described the issue as irrelevant.
“Edusoft was somewhat of a red herring to divert the board’s attention from why we were there, which was the conduct of Dr. Maris,” Rutledge said.
The hearing started about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Maris, who had initially planned to have it held in the open, elected do it in private. The hearing ended about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Rutledge said about a dozen witnesses testified and the board reviewed reams of documents. A court reporter will produce a transcript of the proceedings, he said.
“It was very exhausting, very exhausting,” Rutledge said.
Alejandro Perkins, an attorney with the firm Hammonds & Sills, represented the school system during the hearing.
The hearing ended with 15 different votes.
For each count, the board voted first on whether the evidence presented provided a sufficient factual basis, and then voted again on whether the employee should be considered with willful neglect.
Finally, the board, in keeping with state tenure law, held two more votes, one on whether the charges deserved disciplinary action, and finally a vote on whether the charges merited termination.
Rutledge said the final vote, to fire Maris, was 10-1, with board member Craig Freeman as the lone holdout.
Freeman said he voted to uphold four of the seven charges against Maris, but said he thought there were options short of firing him, though he could understand if Maris should be working somewhere other than Woodlawn Middle.
“I think Mr. Maris was probably a difficult person to work with. … I also think he was a really good teacher. I would send my kids to him,” Freeman said.
Freeman also observed that most of the incidents that prompted Maris’ termination took place over about a week’s time.
“For me, having a bad week doesn’t say, ‘Get rid of a teacher,’ ” Freeman said.
Maris was placed on administrative leave with pay in April.
Freeman said the Edusoft issue didn’t come up much during the hearing.
Freiberg said Edusoft is a love-it-or-hate-it issue, but she learned nothing new Tuesday night to make her think it deserved more attention by the board.
“There was no ‘Aha, look at this’ moment,” she said.
Maris, who has a master’s degree and doctorate in engineering, alleges in his lawsuit that the Edusoft materials and tests “were being improperly used and administered by his school and were resulting in false and inaccurate data.’’
After Maris complained, school administrators “began issuing numerous unfounded and erroneous written reprimands,” the lawsuit alleges.
“His evaluations were lowered immediately. He was eventually transferred away from teaching duties and, even though he has a Ph.D and his students were performing above the school average, Dr. Maris was removed from the classroom,’’ the lawsuit said.
Maris’ litigation is pending in 19th Judicial District Court before state District Judge Todd Hernandez.