Zanders to appeal demotion in court, his lawyer says

Deidre Cruse

The lawyer for Willie Zanders, an assistant principal the Iberville Parish School Board sent back to the classroom after an administrative hearing, said last week his client will appeal his case to the 18th Judicial District Court.

“I thought my job was to make a record for judicial review,” attorney Shannon Battiste said. “I felt the odds were against us.”

The School Board’s attorney called numerous witnesses against Zanders in an administrative hearing that lasted for two nights before voting 13-0 to remove Zanders as assistant principal of Iberville Elementary School and return him to his last tenured position as a classroom teacher.

“The School Board had already made up their mind before I even got there,” Battiste said. “Ms. [Delores] Thibodeau did such a great job of contradicting herself, so I didn’t feel the need [to call witnesses].”

Battiste said he thought the testimony from the school board’s witnesses demonstrated Zanders was working in a “hostile environment.”

The attorney said Iberville Principal Delores Thibodeaux gave contradictory testimony over the two nights of the hearing. He also contended that part of the School Board’s case was based on documents missing from Zanders’ file.

“We will seek a judicial review based on Ms. Thibodeaux’s not doing what she said she would do, and on her contradictory testimony,” Battiste said. “We believe there was a hostile work environment.”

One charge against Zanders was that he had made inappropriate comments about the attractiveness of one schoolboy.

Battiste said the complaint was filed six weeks after the alleged incident by a teacher’s aide and the child’s mother.

The aide, he said, testified that “she didn’t think he meant anything by it,” the lawyer said.

He said she also said she could not remember if anyone had asked her to file the complaint, but said “she didn’t want to get anybody in trouble.” Thibodeaux later testified “she told them to do it,” Battiste said.

“It didn’t sit well with me the fact they didn’t call [the child’s mother] to testify,” he added.

Zanders also was accused of signing for sick leave on a day he was to appear in court on two traffic charges.

Battiste said the school board has no definition of “sick” in its policies, and that Zanders “contends he was sick that day, and he had to go to court.”

(CORRECTION: Zanders was identified as the assistant principal at East Iberville Elementary, St. Gabriel, in last week’s POST SOUTH. However, that information was incorrect. He was employed at Iberville Elementary in Plaquemine. PS regrets the error.