Former adjunct professor sues SBCC
Former SBCC adjunct professor Celeste Barber has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees and other college faculty, alleging violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the Brown Act.
The 13-page complaint filed Aug. 19 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, and obtained by the News-Press, names President and Superintendent Dr. Helen Benjamin, Board President Robert Miller and SBCC professor Reanne Napoleon.
The complaint cites the Jan. 24 board meeting, in which Ms. Barber was petitioning the board to explain why it should return to the policy of reciting the pledge of allegiance prior to each meeting.
“During Barber’s presentation, Napoleon lead a group of individuals in heckling Barber and interrupting her, thus making it impossible for Barber to petition her government,” the complaint reads.
The complaint alleges that Mr. Miller “did not take sufficient steps” to protect Ms. Barber’s rights and did not make any effort to remove Ms. Napoleon as required by the Brown Act.
According to the complaint, approximately 30 seconds into Ms. Barber’s prepared presentation, Ms. Napoleon disrupted by shouting “(i)t’s racist.”
The complaint alleges that Ms. Napoeon’s disruptive conduct encouraged students in attendance to disrupt Ms. Barber.
It further alleges that Mr. Miller made numerous calls for order at the meeting, but never followed the Brown Act by not removing those who were disruptive at the meeting.
At one point during the meeting, a motion was made to adjourn the meeting “until order can be established.” The motion failed and the board never discussed removing the disrupters from the room.
Ms. Barber was permitted to continue and the lawsuit alleges Ms. Napoleon and the students continued to disrupt and interrupt her.
“Rather than remove Napoleon from the room and allow Barber to exercise her Constitutional and statutory right to petition, Miller instead allowed Napoleon to continue to disrupt the meeting and forced Barber to constantly restart her prepared presentation – effectively silencing her speech and her attempt to petition the government,” the complaint reads.
Ms. Barber has hired San Francisco-based law firm Dhillon Law Group, Inc.
The video of the Jan. 24 meeting is posted on the school’s YouTube account and has been viewed more than 13,000 times – significantly more views than other meetings.
Prior to the meeting, Mr. Miller exchanged emails with Ms. Barber and said he felt as if the pledge was “steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.”
In a February board meeting, the board voted unanimously to resume reciting the pledge prior to meetings. The lawsuit did not include Anthony Beebe, who at the time was the college’s president and superintendent. Mr. Beebe announced his retirement in February.
Ms. Barber is seeking declaratory judgment that her constitutional rights were violated and an award of costs and attorneys’ fees from the defendants.
Ms. Barber is also a member of Fair Education Santa Barbara, a group that is suing the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the nonprofit Just Communities Central Coast.
Citing the pending legal matter, the college did not offer comment, according to Luz Reyes-Martin, college spokeswoman.