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Ex-Bellefonte Elementary Principal Elaine Cutler loses appeal

Elaine Cutler, former Bellefonte Middle School principal, listens as the Bellefonte Area School Board discusses their reasons for firing her on Tuesday night during a regular meeting at the Bellefonte High School Library.
Elaine Cutler, former Bellefonte Middle School principal, listens as the Bellefonte Area School Board discusses their reasons for firing her on Tuesday night during a regular meeting at the Bellefonte High School Library. CDT file photo

Former Bellefonte Elementary School principal Elaine Cutler has been dealt another legal blow in her contention that she was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against when she was fired in September 2013.

After her termination, Cutler filed an unsuccessful appeal with the Department of Education alleging that the district had not satisfied procedural requirements for the public school code and that at least one school board member did not attend the hearing or review the transcripts of the proceeding before the board.

On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Court affirmed acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq’s decision in March to reject Cutler’s appeal.

Cutler, who had been employed by the district since 1998, was fired by Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger based on a failure to perform her duties, which included not turning in a timely budget or comprehensive plan, not observing classrooms and evaluating teachers, and failure to conduct severe-weather drills.

The decision was upheld by a unanimous vote by the Bellefonte school board.

In the decision, Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote that Cutler had done her job to the best of her ability, placing emphasis on the day-to-day challenges in her school dealing with teachers, students and parents.

But, Leavitt wrote, “This chosen focus may have been satisfactory at one time in her career as principal. ... However, Potteiger decided to place a higher priority on the administrative aspects of being a school principal. Cutler was given fair warning of Potteiger’s expectations but, unfortunately, she was unable to satisfy them.”

Cutler also filed a civil complaint in federal court in April against Bellefonte Area School District and former school board member Jeff Steiner alleging that the board violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired her and that Steiner defamed her by equating her performance as principal to criminal offenses.

In November, Steiner asked to be removed from that suit, and the case is still pending.

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