Skip to main content

Judge rules in Palmerton closed hearing

Published July 27. 2019 07:32AM

Palmerton Area School District did not violate the Sunshine Act when it locked the door during a termination hearing in January 2018, according to a ruling handed down this week by Carbon County President Judge Roger Nanovic.

In the opinion issued Tuesday, Nanovic said, “The taking of testimony and receipt of evidence in an adversarial proceeding before an adjudicative body was not in any true sense a discussion of agency business.”

Paula Husar, Palmerton Area High School principal, filed the lawsuit while she was suspended without pay beginning on Sept. 7, 2017. Her lawyer, Mark Bufalino, argued that Husar was denied her right to a public hearing when the door providing access to the Palmerton Area School District administrative building was locked during a hearing regarding her employment on Jan. 31, 2018.

Following 13 nonconsecutive nights of hearings, Husar was reinstated to her job after Palmerton’s school board upheld her suspension from Sept. 7, 2017, to June 7, 2018. Husar has since appealed that decision.

During a Carbon County Court hearing, regarding the 2018 locked door incident, former Palmerton Superintendent Scot Engler testified that it was done for safety reasons.

“During a previous hearing in the summer of 2017, it was extremely unruly and disorderly,” Engler said. “People were banging on windows, and it was an unsafe environment.”

Husar sought all litigation costs, expenses and attorney’s fees recoverable under state law in its lawsuit, but Nanovic granted the district’s request for summary judgment Tuesday.

In determining the January 2018 hearing did not violate the Sunshine Act, Nanovic said, “The hearing was more precisely the receipt of evidence which, after the parties concluded their presentations, would be discussed, evaluated, deliberated and relied upon the board in reaching a decision.”

“It is the deliberation and resulting adjudication,” he added, “which the Sunshine Act requires be held in public. Husar has failed to establish that the board took any official action or engaged in any deliberations at the Jan. 31, 2018, hearing, which were in contravention of the Sunshine Act.”

Suspension Appeal

Husar was reinstated by the school board as the high school’s principal in April 2019. She is seeking a reversal of the suspension along with back pay and benefits for that nine-month period.

Of the 20 charges leveled against Husar by Engler, the school board voted unanimously that 16 of them did not have sufficient evidence to terminate Husar.

Of the remaining charges, the board voted:

• In a 5-4 decision that she was persistently negligent in the performance of her duties as stated in the dismissal charges.

• In a 6-3 decision that she did not harass and intimidate fellow employees. Only board members Barry Scherer, Tammy Recker and Josann Harry thought there was enough evidence to support termination under this charge.

• And only Scherer thought there was enough evidence in two charges: that she intentionally attempted to discredit Engler by making false and derogatory statements about him, and that she failed to comply with a board policy related to field trips and the appropriate number of chaperones.

A hearing on the appeal has been set for 1:15 p.m. Nov. 7 in Carbon County Court of Common Pleas before Judge Joseph J. Matika.

Transparency would solve most of these issues. I am not aware of any law that requires privacy in the government actions of a local school government on these administrative matters. Student privacy yes, but the actions of a government employee, not so much.

That being said, every individual has a right to their rights and a court of law is the final say.

The court judge is correct in that informational hearings or meetings on personnel are able to be held in private. On that he is completely correct. Sunshine Act Title 65.

The problem is when the board CHOOSES to use this caveat, instead of opting for transparency. The law ALLOWS privacy but does not REQUIRE such meeting to be held in secret. The board can always chose transparency.

By remaining secret, using the option, the hint of impropriety will fuel the consumption of educational funds on legal matters. It creates more distrust in a system already riddled with corruption, favoritism and a system of tax and spend without proper transparent oversight.

The children are shuffled out as the reason for the consumption, however, when you see governance taking a turn towards secrecy, even legal secrecy, distrust is more likely the final result.

In America, the government of, by and for the people should allow the people access to the same information used by government to deliberate in public, as lawfully required. So, if the information was truly presented to the board in private meeting, the same information could have been redacted and presented to the public, removing the need for turmoil.

No one should be banging on the windows, however, that also could have been mitigated by the proper public education on the intent of the board to shield themselves from stakeholder oversight with their 'private informational meeting'. Fear from public judgement is much more likely the reason for a locked door. A citizen trying to get someone to open the door at a government meeting is also much more likely the reason for the window taps.

The Lehighton School Board has 'accidently' forgot to unlock the admin doors prior to an open board meeting, they have used police to remove legal attendants, and successfully threatened to end meeting when someone from the public arrived to watch their government in action. The meeting was stopped until the person left, it took the Superintendent to use further threats of local police involvement on the citizen if he didn't leave to get his way. Private secret meeting are wrong, and we can't go to court on everyone, but someday, LASD will have proper governance, we hope and pray, someday.


Citizen David F. Bradley, Sr.

Classified Ads

Event Calendar


September 2019


Upcoming Events

Twitter Feed