Chapel Hill High teachers seek to delay transfers

mschultz@newsobserver.comAugust 18, 2012 

— Two Chapel Hill High teachers fighting their involuntary transfers will learn early next week whether they get to start the new year at the school.

After a 90-minute hearing Friday, Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan said that, with the new school year fast approaching, she will rule quickly on whether to grant a stay in the case. A stay would allow teachers Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski to remain at Chapel Hill High until their appeals are heard several months from now.

Superintendent Thomas Forcella has transferred Thompson and Wartski to Carrboro High and East Chapel Hill High schools respectively, citing a desire to improve the school climate at Chapel Hill High. The school board upheld the decision.

But attorney Trey Tanner repeated in court Friday that nothing in the teachers’ personnel files says what they did, who accused them, and if there was a problem, how they could fix it.

Wartski, an Advanced Placement biology teacher, has taught at Chapel Hill High for 19 years. Thompson, an honors English teacher, has taught there 26 years and plans to retire after the coming year, Tanner said.

But Ken Soo, an attorney for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the teachers’ case lacked legal merit.

A stay would require the likelihood that the plaintiffs would prevail upon appeal and that delaying the transfers would prevent irreparable harm, he argued. “They have completely not met the standard,” he said.

“The school board had very legitimate reasons for the decision it made,” Soo continued. He cited correspondence that complained of “old guard” staff undermining the administration and “using students to get what they want.”

Chapel Hill High is about to get a new principal, who will need to restore confidence in the school, Soo said.

“The new person cannot waste time with resistance as they try to take that school to a better place,” he said.

Soo also suggested Wartski has misrepresented himself by saying his students have a 90-plus percent passing rate on the A.P. exam. Since 2008, the percentage of Wartski’s students passing the test has fallen from 91.7 percent to between 72 and 81 percent, Soo said.

Neither teacher spoke at the hearing. About 100 people filled the courthouse room, several with signs they were told to put away once the hearing started.

Tanner would not offer a prediction.

“He made an argument. I made an argument,” he said, standing on the steps outside the courtroom. “Predicting what a judge is going to do is like reading tea leaves.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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