The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed sanctions against former Astoria High School principal Larry Lockett over his handling of a relationship between a teacher and a student in 2004.
Several years after the student left school, she informed a counselor that she had a sexual relationship with the teacher when she was 17.
The state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission revoked Lockett’s teaching and administrator licenses in 2015 after concluding he committed gross neglect of duty in failing to investigate the relationship in 2004.
But the appeals court ruled that the commission’s order against Lockett “lacks substantial evidence and reason.” The court reversed the order and sent the issue back to the commission for further explanation.
Lockett, a highly regarded administrator, retired as principal in 2012 after 12 years in charge. Blair Henningsgaard, Lockett’s attorney, said Lockett sought the appeals court review to preserve his professional reputation.
“It’s a terrible result,” Henningsgaard said of the sexual relationship. “But there’s nothing to say that it’s Mr. Lockett’s fault that that happened.”
The state attorney for the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission could not immediately be reached for comment.
Questions about whether Lockett exercised proper oversight as principal were unearthed after a police investigation into the former student’s claims about the teacher and reviews by the Astoria School District and the commission.
The commission determined Lockett was told the student had moved in with the teacher to help with household tasks as the teacher recovered from a broken leg while his wife and children were away. Staff at the high school also said they told the principal the student and teacher were in the teacher’s classroom alone with the lights off and the door locked.
Lockett’s decision not to take action, the commission found, “demonstrates an extreme lack of professional judgment and leadership and shows serious and material inattention to his responsibilities as principal of Astoria H.S.”
But the appeals court ruled that the commission did not detail why Lockett’s inaction was a lapse in judgment or what Lockett should have done given the circumstances.
The appeals court found that the commission did not explain the professional expectations they used to measure Lockett’s conduct. “For an order to be supported by substantial reason, the agency’s opinion must demonstrate the reasoning that leads the agency from the facts to the conclusion,” the court opinion held. “Here, that path is missing a link.”
Lockett told The Oregonian Thursday that he was not aware the student was living alone with the teacher and would have taken action had he known. “That’s a no brainer,” he told the newspaper. “Any administrator in any school district, when exposed to that information, would immediately come forward and do something.”