Court of Appeals Overturns Trial Court Decision to Invalidate School Board Policies

On October 16, 2018, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed a decision of the Circuit Court of Cole County, Judge Daniel Green, who had declared the school board policies of the Fox C-6 School District invalid because the policies were not signed by order of the Board.  The Court of Appeals concluded that although the school had not technically complied with the statutory requirement that board policies be signed by order of the board, the school board had substantially complied with the requirement and that substantial compliance was legally sufficient.  The Court of Appeals also determined that Judge Green had erroneously shifted the burden of proof from the teacher, who claimed the policies were invalid, to the school board to prove that its policies were in compliance with the statutory requirements.

Under Missouri statutes, “[t]he school board of each school district in the state shall make all needful rules and regulations for the organization, grading and government in the school district.”  The statute further provides that any such rules “shall take effect when a copy of the rules, duly signed by order of the board, is deposited with the district clerk.  The district clerk shall transmit forthwith a copy of the rules to the teachers employed in the schools.”   In this case, a teacher who was being terminated for violating board policies challenged the validity of the board policies by claiming that the board did not comply with all the technical statutory requirements in adopting the board policies at issue.   Judge Green declared the board policies were invalid because they were not signed by order of the school board and because the school board had not proven that they had complied with the statutory requirements.

The Court of Appeals followed Missouri Supreme Court precedent that directs that school laws are to be interpreted liberally and that substantial compliance with the statutes is sufficient.  The Court of Appeals also pointed out well-established Missouri law that requires the person claiming that proper statutory procedures were not followed in the enactment of regulations or policies to bear the burden of proving that the adoption of the rule was not in substantial compliance with the law. In this case, because the Fox school board substantially complied with § 171.011, the statute granting District authority to enact rules and regulations, the policies at issue were declared valid by the Missouri Court of Appeals.