Court orders district to give fired Coahoma superintendent a hearing; puts case on hold

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Coahoma County School District

Xandra Brooks-Keys

CLARKSDALE – After months of fighting to get her $120,000 a year job back, Xandra Brooks-Keys, former superintendent of the Coahoma County School District, will get a hearing and an opportunity to tell her side.

The Coahoma County Chancery Court has ordered the district to schedule a termination hearing for Brooks-Keys, and ordered litigation stayed pending the completion of the hearing.

The Board of Trustees of the Coahoma County School District fired Brooks-Keys at a special called meeting on March 27. Prior to her termination she was placed on a five day suspension, which was later withdrawn.

Once she was terminated, Brooks-Keys retained Samuel Begley of Begley Law Firm, PLLC., based in Jackson, as her counsel. The firm filed a complaint arguing that Brooks-Keys’ contract afforded her a property interest protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Under her contract, it states that the superintendent wouldn’t be removed from her position unless a finding of “gross negligence, malfeasance in office, or commission of a crime”.

The complaint argued that since she has a property interest in her job, prior to her termination, she must be “given notice of any charges against her, an explanation of employer’s evidence, and an opportunity for a hearing to present the employee’s side of the story.”

Former Coahoma superintendent takes on district in fight to get job back

The complaint stated that the board did not give Brooks-Keys an opportunity for a hearing in response to her termination, which deprived her of her constitutional rights.

In her contract with the district, Brooks-Keys employment was to last until January 30, 2023. The contract was signed on June 14, 2016.

The district Board of Trustees denied that they violated any of Brooks-Keys’ rights saying they “terminated the Plaintiff for legitimate reasons, in compliance with her contract” – they noted her failure to establish an alternative school program as required by the State and the hiring of employees without board approval.

Brooks-Keys’ lawyers moved for a partial summary judgment on her claim that she was entitled to a notice and hearing prior to her termination. The court granted her motion.

In the order, it stated that the court found that Brooks-Keys’ employment contract, in fact, did create a property interest in her employment.

Both parties must agree on a hearing officer and if no agreement is reached, the court will appoint one. The district will be responsible for paying for the hearing officer, according to the order.

Brooks-Keys was first appointed as superintendent of the district for the 2016-2017 school year. After her termination, John Mac Curlee served as interim superintendent through June 30. Now, Dr. Ilean Richards, who served as interim superintendent for the Leflore County schools last year, serves in that capacity.