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Appellate rulings split on teacher, counselor

An appeals court has ruled that an English teacher at Niagara Falls High School should lose her job for violating the district's residency policy but that a high school guidance counselor will be allowed to keep her position.

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III ruled in October 2010 that both employees should be reinstated after being fired by the Board of Education in September 2009.

Friday, however, five judges of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester unanimously supported the board's judgment that English teacher Roxanne Adrian really was living in Williamsville.

But four of the same judges ruled that the School Board should not have dismissed counselor Keli-Koran Luchey.

Michael F. Perley of Hurwitz & Fine, attorney for the district, said he was disappointed that the court didn't explain its ruling on the Luchey matter so he could understand why it was different from its decision regarding Adrian.

School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco said that neither employee was rehired after Boniello's decision because of the appeal.

Both employees had tenure, said Maria A. Massaro, administrator for human resources. Adrian had worked at the high school for six years, and Luchey for 10 years.

The district could appeal the Luchey case to the Court of Appeals. "I have to discuss that with our attorney and the board," Bianco said.

Three other Appellate Division rulings on the Niagara Falls residency rule have been appealed to the state's highest court, Perley said, but the court refused to hear two of them.

The third, involving former production control manager Karrie Beck-Nichols, is pending.

In all, the district has lost four of six cases over the 2009 residency firings, Perley said.

"The cases were very fact-specific," said Anthony J. Brock, attorney for New York State United Teachers. He said the union will think about appealing, too.

Besides the decision that went against Adrian, the union may challenge Boniello's ruling, which was supported by the Appellate Division, that teachers accused of violating the residency policy are not entitled to a formal hearing.

"They have an internal procedure that they call a hearing, but it really isn't," Brock said. "You don't get the chance to cross-examine witnesses. You don't get an impartial evaluator of the evidence. It's a document-review session."

Boniello had ruled that the residency rule was reasonable but that the district's inconsistent enforcement of the policy, which dates from 1994, made it legally unenforceable. He said that in one instance, an employee who obviously had violated the policy was allowed to keep his job after presenting a document saying he intended to comply.

The Appellate Division said Adrian had a phone line in Williamsville but not in Niagara Falls, even though she was registered to vote in the Falls and had cable television connected there. But a private investigator followed her six times and found that "she never went to the Niagara Falls residence."