Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ojai Bullying Case Set For Court

School district defends actions as parents sue over classroom book

By Sondra Murphy
A legal case against Ojai Unified School District involving the use of a book that addresses bullying has returned to Ventura County Superior Court. An Oct. 22 trial date is scheduled for “Luttrull v. Ojai Unified School District.”
In an ironic turn, plaintiffs alleged harassing behavior by school district employees toward parents and their children after they complained about the book.
The suit centers around Jodee Blanco’s memoir titled “Please Stop Laughing at Me” assigned to San Antonio Elementary School fifth-grade students. Some parents objected to the frank language, feeling it was inappropriate for elementary students.
OUSD superintendent Tim Baird said that the district met with the concerned parents and removed the book from its elementary curriculum. Unhappy with subsequent actions by district staff and the OUSD board, three parents subsequently filed a lawsuit of miscellaneous complaints on behalf of their daughters and one parent.
Originally filed in September 2005, the case was moved to the Federal Ninth District Court in Los Angeles early in 2006 to address eight federal causes of action. OUSD attorney, Jonathan Light, filed motions to dismiss several causes of action based on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Some plaintiff’s complaints were filed on the basis of Title IX violations because only fifth-grade girls were assigned the book.
The legislative history of Title IX suits have hinged on “deliberate indifference” towards student or parent complaints and most of the plaintiff’s causes of action attempt to illustrate examples of such indifference by teachers, administrators and board members.
Two federal judges from different phases in the lawsuit cited undisputed facts about OUSD’s handling of the complaints at issue – specifically when staff met with parents or students and removed the book from curriculum – as adequate measures by district staff to show that claims of deliberate indifference were not supported.
Light said all eight of the federal causes of action were thrown out during this phase in proceedings, leaving one county cause of action remaining. The core issues in those dismissed are: sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation as to minor plaintiffs, harassment and retaliation as to plaintiffs (parents of the minors in question), civil rights violations as to minor plaintiffs, civil rights violations to plaintiffs (parents), intentional infliction of emotional distress as to minor plaintiffs, negligence as to plaintiff (parent), and civil conspiracy as to all plaintiffs.
The seventh cause of action, “negligence as to minor plaintiffs,” remains for the county to hear. “It is now entirely a county case,” said Light, adding that the federal decisions simplify the proceedings.
Besides nine causes of action being reduced to one, Light said the list of school district defendants has been reduced from four teachers, a specified school board member and two administrators to teacher Linda McMichael, principal John LeSuer, Baird and the Ojai Unified School District. The plaintiffs have also reduced from three to two former San Antonio Elementary fifth-grade students represented by Betty Craven and Rosalyn Luttrull and Jeff Luttrull, M.D.
In his Jan. 8 decision, United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford wrote, “This action arose from a school teacher’s well-meaning, yet ill conceived attempt to create harmony on a schoolyard playground by introducing a book with adult content to fifth-grade girls. Unfortunately, this school teacher’s efforts mushroomed into a full-fledged controversy when the misguided actions of this well-meaning teacher were followed up by the misguided actions of well-meaning parents. This court is now asked to determine whether any of the actions of the participants in this schoolyard saga resulted in a violation of federal or state law.”


Anonymous said...

What a complete waste of time, money and education for our children.

Anonymous said...

My wife an I whole heartedly support the teacher. Our child attends San Antonio and we both think its a wonderful school.