BLACKFOOT — A federal judge last month denied a union-backed lawsuit in the Snake River School District, ending a long-running legal battle that started with a spat between the superintendent’s wife and another teacher.
On April 20, Chief District Judge B. Lynn Winmill dismissed all claims against the school district, its board of trustees and former superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk in a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Education Association (IEA) on behalf of science teacher Elaine Asmus.
“We are happy with the outcome of the decision,” Gabrylczyk said, adding that he felt “vindicated.”
The dispute between the teacher and the district attracted national attention in 2014, including coverage by the Washington Times, after a purported shouting match between Asmus and fellow teacher Laura Gabrylczyk, the wife of the superintendent.
Laura Gabrylczyk filed a harassment complaint on Jan. 15, 2014, prompting trustees to hold a public due process hearing. Mark Gabrylczyk recused himself from the hearing because of his wife’s involvement. The district’s attorney Bryce Loyd stepped in as acting superintendent during the hearing process — and he petitioned for Asmus’ termination, citing employees’ concerns that the science teacher had developed patterns of bullying and intimidation.
Hundreds of patrons attendant the public hearing, most of them expressing support for Asmus, according to the Idaho State Journal.
Snake River trustees decided to renew Asmus’ contract but place her on probation under terms she said were “unreasonable.” After failing to resolve the probationary plan, Asmus declined to sign her contract with Snake River and the district withdrew its offer of employment.
Asmus then filed the federal lawsuit, alleging that her due-process rights had been violated during the 2014 hearing and that trustees were biased in their decision to place her on probation.
“Ms. Asmus has not shown that the board actually prejudged or reasonably appears to have prejudged any issue involved in her case,” Winmill wrote in defense of his decision. “Though the board heard Mr. Loyd’s recommendation for termination, the board did not ultimately follow it.”
Asmus also made claims that current codes outlining professional conduct for teachers in the district and in Idaho were “vague,” that she was not properly notified by the district of allegations made against her in 2014 and that a current Idaho Code detailing school boards’ responsibilities neglects to protect educators’ due-process rights — all denied by Winmill.
Citing a lack of “substantive” evidence in the brief provided by IEA attorney Paul Stark, Winmill also declined to retain jurisdiction over Asmus’ breach-of-contract claim, which was “dismissed without prejudice.”
Mark Gabrylczyk, who now works for the Nevada Department of Education, said the court decision highlights what he sees as the district’s appropriate handling of a difficult situation.
“I wouldn’t do anything differently if I could go back,” he said, adding that he wants to “get back into the superintendency.”
Gabrylczyk said that he hopes Winmill’s decision will clear his name in the court of public opinion, especially regarding charges of nepotism.
Asmus said Winmill’s decision did not reflect the reality of the situation.
“As far as detailed records of events, I have eight large-sized notebooks filled with documentation,” she said. “Documentation and proof had little to do with the eventual outcome.”
Stark also expressed his regret over the judge’s decision.
“The actions of the Snake River School District in this case were arbitrary, vindictive and unprofessional,” Stark wrote. “Mrs. Asmus is a tremendous professional educator whose stellar work in the classroom has benefited many students in her community.”
The Snake River School District released this statement following Winmill’s decision:
“The federal district court found that the district, the board and the superintendent provided Mrs. Asmus all of her constitutionally protected rights. The Court further found that the nature of the claims against Mrs. Asmus were not vague and ambiguous, but rather clearly fell within the applicable standards and statutes relating to her conduct with other staff.”
Asmus now teaches at Bonneville High School.