The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has responded to a lawsuit filed by a former principal at Monte Vista High School, denying her allegations on a number of grounds, court documents show. The district's lawyer claims, among other things, that the actions taken by members of the administration against long-time principal Becky Smith were "lawful, reasonable and necessary to dispatch their obligations and duties."
Smith is suing the district, claiming age discrimination, harassment, defamation and a campaign "deliberately undertaken in a manner calculated to embarrass, humiliate and defame" her. She filed her suit in April; the district responded last month.
The former principal is a 35-year employee of the district, and served as a teacher and assistant principal at Monte Vista before being named principal in 1996. Smith's suit claims the district's attempts to force her out began after Steven Enoch was named superintendent in 2008. She received "exemplary evaluations" until 2008, when her relationship with the administration -- specifically, Enoch, assistant superintendents Christine Williams and Roberta Silverstein and Director of Categorical Programs Toni Taylor, who are all named in the suit -- "began to deteriorate."
A prior court case and Smith's handling of two student incidents seem to be at the root of the lawsuit. Under terms of that earlier case, Smith would receive lifetime benefits if she retired as a principal, and would lose them if demoted. She's been on administrative leave since October and the district has said it plans to reassign her to a lower position.
Smith, however, came under fire for her handling of two incidents with students. In one, at a prom, a student was caught with marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs. Although police officers were present, Smith claims they were hesitant to file charges against the teen and she locked the items in her safe, as she claims she'd done before, planning to show them to the teen's parents. The district claims she should have required the police at the dance to take action, although Smith says she'd handled similar situations exactly the same way in the past without complaint from the school's administration.
The other incident, one that drew the attention of the media, involved the handling of a student caught with an inflatable gun, which shoots plastic pellets. Smith's suit claims the student was unresponsive and cavalier until Smith, using what she called a "teachable moment," pulled the gun from her desk. There are two accounts of what occurred next: either Smith aimed the gun at the student -- as that student claims -- or Smith held up the pistol in profile, explaining to the girl how it could be mistaken by police for an actual gun, as she claims.
Both those incidents led to written reprimands, and she was required to clear out her desk and escorted outside the building following the second. She claims the district acted on an anonymous Internet tip, something it had never done before.
While Smith claims she was forced out, the district claims in its 23-point response that the defendants' actions, were, among other things, "motivated by legitimate non-discriminatory business reasons and based upon reasonable factors."
The district also claims Smith failed to exhaust the administrative process and external remedies, and failed to use the collective bargaining process.
No court date has been set for the case, which has been filed in Superior Court in Martinez.