This is Episode 18 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
On the Hook
People use the U.S. Court System for a multitude of purposes, not all of them designed to produce justice. I have no idea how valid Imika considered her complaint, but the members of the Collective thought it was nothing more than anger and petulance on her part. Judge Susan Illston agreed with us. Her judgment for the defendants was clear and concise, as she summed up the arguments and presented judgment. I am not going to transcribe the entire document, but I am going to present the rationale behind her decision.
Judge Illston began by summarizing the factual allegations. She wrote:
“This matter involves the independent study/contract teaching program offered since the early 1980’s by Laytonville Unified as an option to residents of the school district. Under this optional independent study/home education program, contract teachers are assigned to meet with students and supervise their independent study one hour per week. Misha Chintz was assigned a number of contract teachers spanning the period from 1986 through Fall of 1991.
During the period Misha was enrolled in the optional independent study/contract teaching program, she also received educational services through the Bell Springs Education Collective, a private teaching collective started by parents living in the Bell Springs/Cow Mountain area. Parents belonging to the collective received instruction, training, and supervision from the school district’s contract instructors, which enabled the parents to act as tutors for the children enrolled in the collective. No legal relationship existed between the school district’s contract teaching program and the Collective’s educational program, although several contract teachers met with their assigned students at the Bell Springs Community Center until April, 1990, when the Laytonville Unified School Board voted to end this practice.
In the fall of 1988, Misha began her second grade year with defendant Karen as her contract teacher. For approximately two to three weeks, Misha also received educational services through Bell Springs. Substantial problems developed between Imika and the Bell Springs Collective soon after Misha began second grade. In order to reach the Bell Springs Community Center, which was located near the plaintiffs’ house, Bell Springs members used an easement over the plaintiffs’ property. Ms. Chintz complained vehemently about the use of the easement and the increased traffic on the road near her property. Ms. Chintz eventually filed suit against Joe, the owner of the property on which the Community Center was located, and Bell Springs, to enjoin the use of the easement.
On September 17, 1988, Ms. Chintz received a memorandum from the Collective, informing her that her access to the Bell Springs building was henceforth restricted. On September 23, 1988, defendant Karen, Misha’s second grade contract teacher, informed the Chintzes that she could no longer continue as Misha’s contract teacher. In her letter to the Chintzes Karen stated that Misha was not progressing adequately academically, that Misha was not completing her homework, that Misha was not getting enough direction and assistance from her mother at home, that calm communication with Ms. Chintz was nearly impossible, and that Misha would benefit from a mainstream school program. Karen encouraged Ms. Chintz to talk with Richard M, Principal of Laytonville Elementary School, about her options.
Misha was assigned a different contract instructor, Lynn for the remainder of her second grade school year up through the fall of 1989, the beginning of Misha’s fourth grade school year. During the summer of 1990, Ms. Chintz subpoenaed Lynn to testify in a lawsuit brought by Ms. Chintz against defendant O’Neill. Ms Chintz was dissatisfied with Lynn’s testimony and thereafter requested a new contract instructor for Misha.
Liz was subsequently assigned to replace Lynn as Misha’s contract teacher. In the Fall of 1991, Ms. Chintz contacted Interim Superintendent Mark I regarding the limited amount of attention that Misha was receiving from Liz. Defendant I agreed that Liz was stretched too thin to provide adequate educational plans for all of her students, and he subsequently restricted Liz to teaching high school students, leaving Misha without a contract instructor.
Because the independent study program was understaffed, the plaintiffs were informed that no contract teachers were available to instruct Misha. Mark I advised the plaintiffs that Misha’s name would be placed on a waiting list with other student for the next available contract instructor. Disregarding Superintendent Mark’s recommendation that Misha attend the mainstream school program until a contract teacher became available, Ms. Chintz transferred Misha to Mendocino Unified School District...”
On July 27, 1992, the plaintiffs (Imika and Misha) filed a complaint against the school district, officials and employees of the school district, and several private individuals associated with Bell Springs School, alleging violations of federal and state law. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted with leave to amend on December 9, 1992.
On February 3, 1993, the plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint, dismissing Laytonville unified as a defendant. The defendants again moved to dismiss the Complaint, and the Court granted the defendants’ second motion to dismiss, without leave to amend on April 27, 1993.
The plaintiffs appealed the Order of Dismissal to the ninth circuit, which upheld the dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims against the private individual defendants but reversed and remanded as to the claims against the school district defendants.
On October 19, 1995, the plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985 and by the following defendants: all defendants who were connected to the LUSD.
On February 13, 1996, this Court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ remaining 1983 claim.
In its discussion, the Court began by presenting both sides’ principle argument. The defendants assert that there exist no genuine issues of material fact and that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment in their favor on plaintiffs’ equal protection and free speech claim. The plaintiffs assert in turn that there is evidence to demonstrate that Misha was denied educational opportunities in retaliation for Ms. Chintz’s statements and conduct toward the defendants.
Judge Susan Illston began by stating that the plaintiffs make two specific allegations with respect to defendant Karen: (1) that Karen refused to continue teaching Misha after Imika’s objections to the Collective’s use of the road near her home intensified and (2) that Karen, as a member of the Collective’s Administrative Committee, helped determine that Imika and Misha should be expelled from the Collective and Bell Springs activities.
According to the plaintiffs, Karen excluded Misha from the contract teaching program in retaliation for Imika’s complaints. The plaintiffs submit as evidence a letter they received from Karen in which Karen states:
I have informed Mr. M, Principal of Laytonville Elementary School, that Misha will not be involved in this contract program.
However, there is no evidence that Misha was actually excluded from the contract teaching program by Karen. To the contrary, the evidence is undisputed that Lynn was assigned as Misha’s contract teacher after Karen determined that she could no longer continue as Misha’s instructor and that Misha remained in the contract teaching program until September, 1991. The evidence clearly indicates that Misha was not deprived by Karen of public educational opportunities. The plaintiffs also contend that Karen excluded Misha from Bell Sprigs activities. However, the evidence is undisputed that the Bell Springs program is privately run. In an earlier ruling on this matter, the Ninth Circuit Court held that:
“Because Bell Springs Education Cooperative was privately run school, and those who worked there were private citizens, the Chintzes have not alleged any ‘state action’ on their part sufficient to state a claim against them in federal court.”
As such, even if Karen helped exclude Misha from the Bell Springs program, Karen did not deprive Misha of a public educational opportunity.
Karen was off the hook; now it was my turn. Anyone need a Christmas Tree ornament? I’m dangling.