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School district denies former principal's lawsuit claims

Response to suit says the district acted reasonably

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.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Becky ad nauseum
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Jun 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

It has never truly been about the welfare and benefit of the students at MVHS, it has always been about Becky, Becky, Becky. This frivolous lawsuit just goes to prove she is more interested in herself than SRVUSD school children. She is hoping to get the last laugh with a large settlement, but I just don't see that happening.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Danville
on Jun 18, 2010 at 5:51 am

My understanding was that the student did not have an airsoft gun, as stated in this story, but a large inflatable gun (similar to a beachball) for use at a sports rally. The airsoft gun used by Becky Smith was one she had in her office already.

Is this correct?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 18, 2010 at 7:12 am

You are correct Sarah, not Glenn. Please research your stories Glenn to ensure the facts are correct before being published.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Danville
on Jun 18, 2010 at 8:07 am

If this had happened in private industry, she would have been fired not reassigned. t's time to get beyoned teachers' unions and protection of bad teachers and principals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Every Dog Has His Day
a resident of Danville
on Jun 18, 2010 at 8:52 am

Becky protected MV like a weak child. Some may have found that honorable. I might have, had she not been quick to "embarrass, humiliate and defame" my child many years ago over a situation for which she did not have (or seek) all the facts. It was a horrific, expensive year and although our student's name was finally cleared the scars remain. As far as I'm concerned, this is like when you see the guy who cut you off on 680 get pulled over by the cops - only better.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by jrm
a resident of Vista Grande Elementary School
on Jun 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

jrm is a registered user.

the year my son graduated (2006) there was an unaccounted for misappropriation of funds from their Senior class donations.....this led to the revelation that the funds raised for a class of 2006 gift were largely used for Becky's unapproved golf cart and new office furniture for her. When my daughter served as class president in 2008 Becky was imperial, unapproachable, and was downright mean. This is not just about the gun incident...there was a pattern of unacceptable behavior at her level.....I hope justice prevails.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Emily West
editor of Danville Express
on Jun 18, 2010 at 11:38 am

Emily West is a registered user.

Sarah, you are correct. There was a misunderstanding and the story has been updated to say that the student had an inflatable gun. Thanks.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Check Facts, then Speak
a resident of Danville
on Jun 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm

jrm - Some of your facts are incorrect. The golf cart was donated by a family that moved here to Blackhawk from back east and found out the cart was bigger than allowed on the Blackhawk courses. A thank-you letter was sent to the family making the donation. There was no new furniture purchased with the funds, either. The Principal's office was already fully furnished.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Every Dog Has His Day
a resident of Danville
on Jun 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm

jrm may have been off the mark with regard to items purchased with the ill-gotten gains, but I'll second her 'imperial, unapproachable and downright mean' assertion and raise her a 'condescending'.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by jrm
a resident of Vista Grande Elementary School
on Jun 19, 2010 at 9:01 am

jrm is a registered user.

THX for the clarification check facts..can you advise us as to where therefore the remaining funds went for school year 2006 and 2007 graduates? Accumulated funds for "senior class gift" for those years compared to actual dollars spent? Not to pile on Becky, but it would be best if she would just gracefully bow out, not litigate against all of us. A previous poster was right, in the private sector this lack of situational leadership would have been dealt with much earlier. I just hope the district does not settle prematurely in an effort to just put an end to things, there appears to be plenty of folks willing to be deposed with examples of her declining job performance. Life is too short Becky....count your blessings and move on...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by sad but true
a resident of Danville
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm

If this woman had exemplary evaluations prior to Mr. Enoch becoming her superintendent, what happened?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Katie
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 22, 2010 at 9:47 am

It's amazing how a few years ago all I heard was how great the MV principal was. Now that there is trouble everyone is quick to jump on the bandwagon against her. Why is a teenager, soon to be an adult, bringing an inflatable gun that shots pellets to school? Does the student or her family take any responsibility for that? I am sure if that was your child that was caught with drugs at a dance you would be forever grateful that she did not inform the police. Typical Danville parents is all I can say.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Truth can Hurt
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Jun 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

Exemplary evaluations are par for the course in education, where everybody has to live with everyone else for a long time to come, and thus nobody wants to ruffle any feathers along the way. Except for when a new superintendent comes to clean-up the situation. Everybody knew that Becky Smith was an incompetent mean ..., but was afraid to say it!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Danville
on Jun 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Charming post there, Katie. Hating on Danville parents...interesting.
Question - what first hand experience do you have with Ms. Smith?

For a child to bring an inflatable gun to school seems a silly, teenager type of act - harmful to no one. It is not as though the toy in question looked like the real deal.

The principal is an adult, and in a position of power over the student and should be held to a professional standard. The question is whether that standard was upheld during the meeting with this particular student. I don't claim to know the answer but implying that Danville parents happily dodge responsibility for the actions of their children is quite a (nasty) stretch.

Perhaps your ax can use some grinding, but consider doing so somewhere that makes sense next time.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Danville
on Jun 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Timely piece on CNN's site today about how to tell if you're a comments "troll." I think we all could take some advice from this...

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV2011
a resident of Danville
on Jun 23, 2010 at 2:23 pm

For me (Being a 2011 senior at MV and my sister graduating in 2008) Becky Smith was a horrible at her job. I am involved with a program called Link Crew at MV where we invite all the freshman to come to MV and give them a tour before school starts. Every single administrator usually comes to this and introduces them selves. Out of my three years of being in this club and my sisters 4 years, Becky Smith NEVER once made an appearance. At rallys she never showed up and said a word and in fact not many students at MV even knew who she was. She never created a relationship with the students. Kids at MV would joke around saying Ms Smith didnt exist because no one had ever seen her walking around at MV. She never created that "Principal Atmosphere". We now have a new principal who every day stands outside of her office greeting students at life and trying to become involved with the students.

As for the person saying she stole from the school funds for her furniture and golf carts - you have this info wrong. What had happened was that every year after the seniors left any money that was left over (money that the seniors raised themselves) is supposed to go to the next graduating class. However for many years Becky Smith would take this money a spend it on not her golf cart but for new carpeting in the math building, new walkie talkies and items like that. Becky Smith said that since everything was for the school this was okay, but what she failed to realize is that the entire senior leadership class is supposed to take a vote on what to do with the extra money and not just have it stolen from them. (Once again let me point out this was money WE earned not her...)


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