Monday, June 14, 2010

Former San Ramon Valley school principal sues district

DANVILLE — Former Monte Vista High School principal Rebecca Smith, removed from her job after an incident involving an Airsoft pistol and a student, has filed a lawsuit that claims she was the victim of age discrimination and a district campaign to force her out.
Smith, 58, was principal since 1996. She was put on paid leave in the fall after the Airsoft incident. In 2007, she had been accused of misappropriating nearly $100,000 in student-raised funds — something that Smith explains in the suit as not being her fault.
Smith, who could not be reached for comment is seeking an unspecified amount in damages. Kathryn Dickson, her attorney, declined to speak about the suit, that was filed in Contra Costa Superior Court in April.
Besides age discrimination, Smith also claims the district defamed her by publicly discussing some issues and did not give her due process before demoting her to a teacher.
Court filings give Smith's description of the Sept. 29, 2009 Airsoft gun incident, which school district officials have not discussed in detail. Sources have told the Bay Area News Group the incident happened before a girls volleyball game, when a player had an inflatable toy that resembled a gun confiscated. In a disciplinary meeting with Smith, the girl allegedly felt threatened when Smith pulled out an Airsoft pistol and pointed it at her.

In her suit, Smith called it a "teachable moment." The suit says the principal kept the Airsoft pistol and other confiscated look-alike guns and weapons in her office, and when the student appeared unresponsive to Smith's counseling, the principal took the Airsoft pistol and held it so the girl could see how hard it would be for police to tell if it was real. The lawsuit also mentions other incidents leading up to her removal. Smith's suit says than in 2007 false allegations were raised by a parent about how money raised by the senior class was spent. Her suit says external and internal audits were done and found no mishandling. The issue arose after funds from that class were combined to an at-large student body account, and that it was done not by Smith's direction by the district's director of fiscal services.

At the time, the district said nearly $100,000 was spent without students' input.
Smith's suit also brings up other incidents she said were part of a campaign by Superintendent Steven Enoch, who was hired in summer 2008, to force her out. She was reprimanded twice in spring 2009 for incidents in which she felt she was treated differently than younger principals and administrators.

In one incident, a student was found with marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs during the junior prom. Smith told on-duty police, who were reluctant to get involved because it would have elevated it to a criminal issue. She kept the items in a safe and presented them to the student and parents before giving them to a school police officer. Smith said she was reprimanded because the district believed she should have demanded police get involved.

Smith was also reprimanded shortly after because an assistant principal failed to file all the needed paperwork for a field trip out of the state for a robotics team.
Smith was then placed on a management assistance plan, which she said is a precursor to dismissal. She said district officials made comments implying she was old and should retire. Those comments, she says in the suit, included that she was trained by the old guard and times were changing, and that there would be no need for an assistance plan if she retired.

Koehne said Smith remains on paid administrative leave pending reassignment, but that job has not been determined. Koehne did not have her salary but said it was near the top of the salary schedule for principals, which tops out at $130,598.

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