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Panguitch man wins ruling against school district



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PANGUITCH -- A scathing report blasts the Garfield School District for how it handled the case of a U.S. citizen who is a native of India. It also orders that he be hired as a substitute teacher in the district and be given back-pay.

The report from an administrative law judge found that Harshad Desai was subjected to harassment and prejudice in the community. It also says the school district denied him due process in his application to work as a substitute teacher.

Desai has called Panguitch home for 18 years, and even owns two small motels in the town. In 2001, he answered an ad from the local school district for substitute teachers; the application led to a legal dispute that has finally been resolved by the Utah Labor Commission.

"It's sad that we had to go this way, but they had a chance. My doors are open up to midnight every day," Desai said.

He believes that as a practicing Hindu in a predominantly LDS community, he was discriminated against despite the fact he holds two master's degrees and attended the required district training.

Desai applied for the job just before the 9/11 attacks, but a year later had still never been called to teach.

"This started in 2001. I wanted them to sit down with me and explain," Desai said. "There was a resolution conference, and they stood up and walked out."

Some community members had reported to school officials that Desai had a temper when he was harassed by teenagers and he wouldn't have control or respect of students.

In the written ruling, the judge found "To characterize what was done as an 'investigation' does not reflect the facts that this was really a one-sided witch hunt, which was instigated by school board members and carried out by the district superintendent."

District officials were hesitant to respond to the ruling.

"We have no comment on that right now. We found out about that last night," said Janice Hatch, acting superintendent of the Garfield County School District.

Even after winning, Desai questions why he had to fight so hard for rights he is believes everyone is entitled to.

"Whether they like it or not, whether I like it or not, is not the issue. We live in a civilized society," Desai said.

The school district has been ordered to place Desai on the list of qualified substitutes and that he be called to teach on a regular basis. The district must also calculate what he would have earned over the past eight years as a substitute teacher and fairly compensate him.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod

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