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School Board's ruling to fire secretary upheld

February 25, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

The Maryland State Board of Education has upheld the local School Board's decision to fire a Boonsboro High School secretary who told authorities an instructional assistant had sex with two male teens and allowed a student to drink alcohol last school year.

Kenneth J. Mackley, attorney for former Boonsboro High secretary Deanna Casto, received a copy of the Feb. 23 decision in the mail Thursday.

Casto, of 201 S. Mechanic St. in Sharpsburg, could not be reached for comment.

Calling the ruling "a miscarriage of justice," Mackley said it was arbitrary and unfair.

"Here the whistle blower, who caused the boil on the surface of Boonsboro High School to be lanced, is penalized by the harsh dismissal, besmirching her character and reputation and incurring cost to defend herself," he said.

Mackley said the appeal to the State Board of Education was Casto's final recourse.

Washington County Schools Superintendent Herman Bartlett said he thought the local school system's administration and School Board and the state were correct. "They believed all along that it was a fair and impartial hearing. It was the only possible ruling."

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Casto was suspended with pay on May 1, 1998, after informing school authorities that Brenda Sue Hargett, then 34, had confided she had sex with two high school boys, ages 16 and 17, and performed oral sex on another 11th grade male student, according to the state board ruling.

She also told investigators that she saw a 17-year-old boy get in Hargett's car in the parking lot of the Boonsboro High School and drink alcohol, according to the ruling.

Casto was fired on May 7, 1998.

She was terminated based on "inappropriate conduct in the presence of students and disregard of Board of Education policy," the ruling states.

The document says Casto did not promptly report witnessing drugs on school property, drinking alcohol prior to a sporting event and being in a car that contained a cup of alcohol on the Boonsboro High School grounds.

The State Board of Education reviewed transcripts of testimony from Casto's Aug. 10, 1998, hearing before the Washington County Board of Education in making their ruling.

Mackley argued that his client's due process rights were violated because she was not advised of the specific reasons for her termination and was not informed until the day of her hearing before the local School Board that her dismissal also was based on her failure to report Hargett's behavior more quickly.

Mackley said Casto was caught in a moral dilemma - wanting to report the misbehavior but also wanting to be sure she had proof so that she would not be casting false allegations.

In addition, he said "the state board did not pay attention to the high outpouring of support." He said he provided numerous letters from school officials, friends and family informing the court of Casto's good character.

He said Casto had an exemplary work record and had been praised in past reviews.

Casto, who is married and has two children, is employed by a Hagerstown doctor as a secretary.

Mackley said the county School Board could have imposed other penalties on Casto, such as further suspension.

The ruling states Casto had knowledge of Hargett's behavior for several months before reporting it.

The state's decision calls Casto's judgment "seriously flawed," for failing to promptly report a Feb. 6, 1998, incident in which she witnessed at least one underage student drink alcohol on or near school property.

Hargett, of 9502 Crystal Falls Drive, pleaded guilty to three counts of contributing to the condition of minors and six counts of providing alcohol to minors on Oct. 6, 1998. She is to be sentenced March 2 and could face fines and up to nine years in prison.

Hargett was dismissed from her job on March 31, 1998.

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