JCPS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A former Jefferson County Public Schools teacher is challenging the constitutionality of a law prohibiting school districts from employing people who have abused or neglected kids.

Teresa Desautels, who taught at Farmer Elementary and was fired in December, contends in a lawsuit filed in Jefferson Circuit Court Tuesday that the new law violates the Kentucky Constitution because it affected her teaching contract. The lawsuit focuses on a section of the Constitution that states, “No ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall be enacted.”

The law, passed during the 2017 legislative session, went into effect July 1, 2018, and prohibits school superintendents from hiring or employing people who have abused or neglected children.

JCPS requested a background check on Desautels after the law took effect and found that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services had substantiated an allegation of child neglect in 2015, according to the lawsuit. Desautels says in the filing that the incident involved her child.

Desautels is also challenging the retroactive application of the law and a hearing officer’s dismissal of her request to appeal her termination before a tribunal.

The hearing officer, James Dickinson, determined in a Jan. 28 order that he could not rule on the constitutionality of law and that the reason for Desautels’s firing was not appealable before a tribunal.

Hearing officers do “not have the authority to strike down a statute for any reason, including a violation of constitutional law,” Dickinson wrote in his order dismissing Desautels’s appeal, which was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

“Such power was never vested in a hearing officer, and it is well understood that a hearing officer can only act within the powers ascribed to him or her,” he wrote.

Her attorney, Don Meade, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for JCPS said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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