After tentatively ending former San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens’ lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Unified School District, a Santa Barbara judge will reconsider the matter.
According to a tentative ruling published last week, Judge Pauline Maxwell determined Mr. Behrens’ action for violation of due constitutional process should be dismissed without an opportunity to amend the lawsuit refile. But after a hearing last-minute arguments from both sides on Wednesday, Judge Maxwell decided not to publish her tentative ruling and make a final decision at a later date.
Mr. Behrens sued the district in May 2018. The lawsuit alleged he was made the scapegoat of a Jan. 19, 2018 student threat video targeting several female students.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department determined there was no credible threat of physical harm, but on Jan. 23, 2018 a group of parents contacted Mr. Behrens and threatened to release the video if he did not release the names of the students involved. The video depicted a student with an antique musket describing how to kill female classmates.
Mr. Behrens did not release the names and the video was eventually released to local news media.
The lawsuit claimed Superintendent Cary Matsuoka prepared Mr. Behrens’ notice of reassignment five days after the reprimand letter was delivered and before Mr. Behrens submitted his response letter to the district.
He was demoted in March 2018 to a junior high school social studies teacher. The demotion included a $50,000 salary cut, according to his lawsuit.
On May 9 Judge Maxwell denied Mr. Behrens’ petition for reinstatement because the district did not have a duty to reinstate him and it did not abuse its discretion by removing him from his principal position and reassigning him to a teaching position.
On Aug. 9 Judge Maxwell dismissed Mr. Behrens’ labor code claim for unlawful retaliation.
During oral arguments on Wednesday Mr. Behrens was represented by David Cousineau, an attorney from Santa Barbara firm Cappello & No’l.
Mr. Cousineau argued that the district’s criticisms of Mr. Behrens in the press and its retaliatory demotion violated his due process because they prevent him from obtaining future employment as a school administrator.
“Being a principal and a teacher are, in my view, fundamentally different jobs. A teacher is an administrator. He’s not in the classroom. That is a different profession and that is at the very least a question of fact that a jury would need to consider to assess whether this release of Mr. Behrens implicated his liberty interests,” said Mr. Cousineau who claimed the California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has not addressed whether a demotion is a change in job subject to a liberty interest right.
Joseph Sholder, an attorney representing the District from Santa Barbara firm Griffith & Thornburgh, countered that Mr. Behrens’ liberty interests were not violated because he can still obtain work as a teacher and administrative positions in schools are simply promotional teaching levels.
“Your job when you’re hired by the school district is as a teacher. You have a promotional level and you do not have a constitutional right to that. They don’t like what you do, they’ve lost confidence in you for whatever reason, as the court previously noted, you go back to being at teacher. This would be a much different case if Mr. Behrens couldn’t get a teaching job. That’s his field. That’s what the cases say,” said Mr. Sholder.