Suit reveals case against principal
A hearing that could decide embattled Palmerton Area High School principal Paula Husar’s fate is on hold, but court documents recently filed show more details about the possible cause of her ongoing suspension.
The hearing in front of the school board was to take place Oct. 17, but was called off per an agreement between lawyers for Husar, the district and Palmerton Superintendent Scot Engler. Husar has lawsuits against Engler and the district at the county, state and federal levels.
Husar files for injunction
Husar’s attorney, Mark Bufalino, asked a federal judge on Oct. 5 to grant a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would reinstate her to the position of Palmerton high school principal and temporarily prevent the district from suspending or terminating her.
According to Bufalino, “Husar had been suspended without pay, and the school district agreed to give (Husar) back pay that she had not received during her suspension in exchange for dropping the request for the injunction. The parties also agreed to delay the school board hearing regarding Husar’s potential termination while the parties participate in the federal mediation process to attempt to resolve their differences.”
Husar was previously suspended for three days on April 19 for what the district said was an “improper handling of a school bus investigation.”
Bufalino wrote that the district “improperly upheld the suspension on July 26.”
On that date, a nearly five-hour hearing was held in front of Palmerton’s school board.
The attorney representing the district and Engler, Robin Snyder, countered the claim, stating Husar “failed to articulate a basis” for why they believe the board’s decision was improper.
“The transcript speaks for itself,” Snyder wrote.
Husar turned in her keys and was walked out of the building by district administrators on Sept. 7.
“Mr. Engler manufactured charges of immorality, insubordination, dereliction of duty, harassment and intimidation,” Bufalino wrote. “Within minutes of providing Mrs. Husar with the notice of charges, the district attempted to schedule a mandated hearing at 2 p.m. that afternoon.”
Husar waives Loudermill hearing
After a series of emails between Husar and Engler, in which Husar said her attorney could not be present on Sept. 7, the “Loudermill” hearing was rescheduled for Sept. 8. With an attorney present, Husar waived her right to the hearing.
On Sept. 19, according to Bufalino, Palmerton Board President Barry Scherer informed Husar that Engler was recommending her dismissal. Husar was given an Oct. 4 deadline to decide whether or not she wanted a hearing in front of the school board.
In court documents, Bufalino claims the state requirement that the hearing be held within 10 to 15 days of the notice of charges was not met. There was a discrepancy, however, whether the 10-15 day window kicked in after the notice of charges or after the employee requests a hearing in front of the board.
Husar notified the district on Oct. 3 that she did want a hearing, which was then scheduled for Oct. 17.
There are avenues for Husar to challenge the decision of the school board if it is not in her favor, including appeals to the state Department of Education, and ultimately, the state Commonwealth Court.
District lists charges against Husar
In a letter sent to Husar on Oct. 6, Engler recommended Husar be dismissed from employment based on the following charges:
• Falsely accusing Engler of making “disgusting comments” about Husar in his official capacity as superintendent while conducting business with a Penn’s Peak employee.
• Falsely accusing Engler of contacting a parent whose child was involved in a possible disciplinary matter and attempting to get the parent to say Husar acted inappropriately in the investigation when no such statement was made by Engler.
• Lying about a conversation Husar alleged having with a parent of a student involved in a possible disciplinary matter.
• Attempting to blame Engler for the late release of class schedules by telling other personnel she was waiting on superintendent approval of the welcome back letter. According to the district, Engler had only received the letter for approval that same day.
• Purposely attempting to discredit Engler by sending out an opening message email to teachers and staff which was filled with references to Husar’s labor dispute with the district and Engler and the negative impact it had on Husar.
• Intentionally lying about Engler’s conduct toward Husar in an investigatory meeting held Aug. 16. Falsely accusing Engler of refusing to reveal the subject matter of the investigation, repeatedly yelling at Husar and physically intimidating Husar.
• Continued false statements against Engler.
• Purposefully delaying class schedules for the 2017-18 school year, causing havoc and confusion at the start of the school year.
• Failure to appropriately or adequately follow a clear directive at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year to evaluate the high school language offering and make recommendations for these programs including language offerings moving forward.
• Failure to attend a board meeting on Aug. 1 in which you were directed to explain your language plan to the board.
• Failure to send back to school letters to ninth grade students until reminded to do so by the secretary.
• Failure to adequately and appropriately address a parent’s questions about students’ criteria for admittance into NHS.
• Accepting and validating a student’s apology for having been inappropriately “groomed” by a district coach (who has been subsequently dismissed and reported to proper authorities).
• Purposefully countering a directive from Engler about student parking by allowing juniors and seniors from Carbon Career & Technical Institute to park in the construction area during the first week of school as opposed to seniors only.
• Failing to notify students and parents in a timely manner regarding parking changes for the 2017-18 school year.
• Returning confiscated tobacco to a student after a field trip on Sept. 30, 2016.
• Excessively, and without any stated purpose, walking in and disrupting a class taught by a high school teacher by standing in the back of the room without comment either then or later for the purpose of the walk-in.
• Continual and excessive disciplinary issues related to all of the above and as noted in Husar’s personnel file.
• Insubordination exhibited on Sept. 7 by failing to report to the district office after repeated directives to do so to either attend a Loudermill hearing or turn over district property.
• Failure to comply with board policy related to field trips and the appropriate number of chaperones.
• Failure to adequately address or inform Engler of ethnicity-based harassment complaints, which led to a Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission complaint being filed against the district.
Husar filed a lawsuit in Carbon County Court in November 2016, alleging negligence and breach of contract after she received 1.15 points on her year-end evaluation and an “unsatisfactory performance rating.”
In November 2016, Husar also filed a gender discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, age discrimination and retaliation claim against the district and Engler before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
In April, she followed up with a federal lawsuit after receiving the three-day suspension, one day after oral arguments in the Carbon County lawsuit.
According to Husar, her initial legal action stems from an interview with board members regarding the job performance of Engler, whose contract was being considered for renewal.
After Husar’s comments about Engler’s job performance were revealed, her attorneys argued, “she faced harassing, hostile and discriminatory comments.”
Engler and the district denied claims of retaliation against Husar in a document filed in July in U.S. Middle District Court.