Suspension quashed
School district can continue with dismissal proceedings against Woodley

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 08/99) - School superintendent Ken Woodley is back on the job, but it may not be for long.

Justice Virginia Schuler quashed the suspension Yellowknife's public school board placed on Woodley this June.

However, the board can and will continue with dismissal proceedings against Woodley, which they began soon after his suspension.

"My task is not to decide whether the board made the correct decision in suspending (Woodley). My task is to decide whether (Woodley) was treated fairly in the procedural sense," Schuler wrote in her reasons for judgment.

Since he was not given a chance to answer the allegations against him, and the board did not consider "whether some other action could address the board's concerns," the board did not treat Woodley fairly, Schuler wrote.

The judgment allows the board to go through with the dismissal as long as Woodley is given a chance to address the board. The board must also make its reasons for firing Woodley clear.

The board does not have to conduct an oral hearing on the dismissal either, Schuler decided.

The board decided Wednesday night, in an in camera session, to continue with dismissal proceedings against Woodley, said chair Dan Schofield.

Woodley's contract is an open one that allows himself or his employer to end it with due notice.

The board may terminate with or without cause, although the procedure and severance settlements are different depending on which they choose.

They have chosen a dismissal with cause, and will file a reason for dismissal today.

Woodley has until Monday, Oct. 18 to give the board a written response to the dismissal.

Woodley, who was back on the job this week, said he was happy with the court's decision, but very surprised the board has gone ahead with dismissal proceedings.

" I went back to work (Wednesday) morning and that night I was given warning (of the dismissal proceeding)," Woodley said.

He said he was not allowed to attend the in camera meeting, and is concerned about not being able to speak on the matter.

"I have concerns about whether you can have full, frank and fair disclosure through an exchange of written reports," he said. "When we're writing, we're not listening, and when we're reading, we're not talking."

His lawyer, Austin Marshall, wonders if the dismissal can be fair, Justice Schuler's requirement, with in camera sessions and written reports.

The board will make its final decision Oct. 19.

Schofield said he was not surprised by the judicial ruling.

"We're disappointed with the first part of the ruling, because we believed we were fair with the process of the suspension," Schofield said. "But we're very pleased with the last two parts of the decision, because they came out in the board's favour."

"We are treating Dr. Woodley fairly, as the court asks, in our procedure," he said.

Schofield said the board has placed no further restrictions on Woodley in his job, but Woodley is entitled to leave with pay, if he chooses, to prepare his report.

One thing left unsettled, according to Marshall, is who picks up the cost of the case.

In civil court, when a party wins outright, the other side must pay all of the costs of the case. This includes the opposite party's expenses, including lawyer fees.

But Schuler decided both sides had scored a partial victory, and so should split the tab.

Marshall said his client is in fact entitled to having his costs paid.

"The whole point when we started this court application was to quash the suspension," he said. "The dismissal was a secondary matter."