YAKIMA, Wash. — An appeals court on Thursday sent back a ruling in the long-running Michele Taylor case to Yakima County Superior Court, saying it does not have jurisdiction.
The Division III Court of Appeals said the Legislature never granted it the power to issue a constitutional writ of review as requested by the East Valley School District. A judge at the trial level can, however.
The district has been trying to fire Taylor since 2009, when the East Valley High School gym teacher was prosecuted for alleged sexual misconduct with two male high school students, then 15 and 16.
Although a jury acquitted her of criminal charges in the case in 2010, school district officials and the state superintendent’s office accused Taylor of misconduct based on the same allegations and have been trying to block her from returning to duty ever since.
At the district level, East Valley school officials have been fighting for the right to fire her, while state officials initially tried to revoke her teaching certificate.
The appeals court ruling issued Thursday involved the termination side of the dispute, which began after an arbitrator ruled the school district did not have sufficient evidence to fire Taylor.
The district tried to appeal, but a judge ruled only Taylor could appeal an arbitrator’s decision.
District officials have been fighting for the right to appeal ever since, leading to the most recent ruling by the appeals court, which is based in Spokane.
The appeals court said a recent state Supreme Court ruling in a similar case in Federal Way restricts appeals based on statutory reviews and that it lacks the power to grant a constitutional review.
As a result, the appeals court sent the case back to Superior Court Judge Robert Lawrence-Berrey, who must now decide whether the school district can go forward.
Michael Patterson, a lawyer for the school district, said school officials have 30 days to decide whether to appeal. No decision has yet been made.
The ruling does not directly affect the licensing side of the dispute, which began when the state superintendent’s office tried to revoke Taylor’s teaching certificate.
After Taylor appealed that decision, a committee downgraded it to a one-year suspension. She is appealing the suspension, which ends Aug. 31.
In the meantime, the two sides reached an agreement in which the school district will stop paying her salary, but will provide health benefits through the course of the appeal, or until Aug. 31, whichever comes sooner.
As with the termination side of the dispute, Taylor’s suspension appeal also now rests in the hands of Judge Lawrence-Berrey.