Former teacher says she was accused of trying to turn students gay, appeals termination

A former Lincoln County teacher appealed her termination in the third of possibly four hearings Friday.

Kelli Burns taught English at Guyan Valley Middle School in Harts. Administrators suspended Burns without pay in January 2013, and then fired her in March.

According to her termination letter, officials found Burns unsatisfactory in, "Classroom Climate, Instructional Management System, and Student Progress."

Burns said she was wrongfully terminated for several reasons: supervisors failed to adequately rate her performance and board members violated termination policy. But to Burns, the reason garnering most attention is the topic of her sexuality.

"They brought in allegations, actual allegations that I had tried to turn students gay, that I forced students to cross dress, that I showed them nude pictures of myself, all completely ridiculous," said Burns in an exclusive interview with 13 News in March.

13 NEWS obtained documents presented in Burns' termination hearing.

In one letter, a parent accused Burns of "using slang words in front of the class" and stating "in front of the class that she is a lesbian." The same parent also wrote about how Burns rarely assigned work and reviewed material.

"I certainly never discussed the aspects of my sexual life with any student nor would I," Burns said in the same interview.

In a memo reportedly written by a student or several students, Burns is accused of other actions including, "she made us boys wear dresses" and "she tried to turn some of us gay."

Burns said she's upset administrators even discussed her sexuality—especially when she said the allegations rang false.

"People shouldn't have to face this kind of discrimination," Burns said Friday. "Whether you're gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender, or whether you're being accused of being that, it's just ridiculous to bring that into somebody's job performance review."

Burns and the Lincoln County Board of Education faced off in a third hearing at the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board Friday. The former teacher said she believes she was fired because she had reported cheating on test scores.

"We want to reverse the dismissal and put her back in the classroom where she belongs," said Gordon Simmons, a field organizer from the Public Workers' Union who represented Burns.

Superintendent Patricia Lucas attended the hearing on behalf of the Lincoln County Board of Education.

"It's a personnel matter and at this time I can't really discuss anything else other than a personnel matter," Lucas said.

During a previous interview in March, Lucas mentioned that the Lincoln County BOE has never fired anyone for being gay.

Administrative law judge Stephanie Ojeda presided over the open meeting. Rebecca Tinder represented the Lincoln County BOE and argued Burns was terminated due to poor performance.

Both parties questioned witness Devonne Brown Parsons, who taught English at Harts Intermediate School in 2010 alongside Burns.

"She was great, she was great to work with, we got a lot done," said Parsons, characterizing Burns as a teacher.

Tinder claimed administrators found Burns' classroom in a state of chaos on several occasions.

Parsons said both teachers were encouraged to employ "21st-century" teaching methods, which allowed students to work in groups, oftentimes in the hallways.

Ojeda said the parties will meet for at least one more meeting, after which she'll issue a decision.

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