A judge has given Santa Barbara Unified School District more time to respond to former San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens’ motion for judgment in his demotion lawsuit.
In a tentative ruling issued last week, Judge Pauline Maxwell made the decision on her own motion, without prompting from the school district. She effectively vacated a March 11 ruling by Judge Donna Geck that found the district did not need a continuance, said Mr. Behrens lawyer, Leila J. Noel.
Wrote Judge Maxwell: “The Court is aware that, in its absence, another judge of this court denied Respondent’s ex parte request for a continuance of the hearing on Petitioner’s motion for judgment on preemptory writ. Given the nature and complexity of the dispute, however, this Court has determined that a continuance is necessary to allow the Court to devote sufficient time and attention to the important issues presented.”
The case is set for a motions hearing on April 24. The district can file exhibits of evidence, under seal from the public, until that date.
Mr. Behrens sued the district in May 2018, alleging he was made the scapegoat of a Jan. 19, 2018 student threat in a video, targeting several female students.
While the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department determined there was no credible threat of physical harm, on Jan. 23, 2018 a group of parents contacted Mr. Behrens and threatened to release the video, which depicted a student with an antique musket describing how to kill female classmates, if he did not release the names of the students involved.
Mr. Behrens says he could not release the names of the students due to federal privacy laws and a school district instruction to avoid creating community panic. The video was eventually released to local news media.
Mr. Behrens received a letter of reprimand on Feb. 19, 2018 for exacerbating the threat. The suit 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.
The lawsuit asks a judge to reinstate Mr. Behrens as San Marcos principal, a response from the district on why the plaintiff’s requested order should not be issued, or for a jury trial to determine damages.
In December, Mr. Behrens filed a 19-page motion asking Judge Maxwell to compel the district to provide him with a memo that he claims led to his demotion. The school board voted to demote Mr. Behrens in a closed session on March 13, 2018.
The district claimed the demotion was based on information in Mr. Behrens’ personnel file but later conceded it relied on specific allegations of misconduct and failed to notify Mr. Behrens of those allegations prior to the demotion vote.
On June 11, then-school board member Ismael Ulloa confirmed the memo was presented and influenced his vote.
Judge Maxwell considered the motion on Jan. 30, but court records do not indicate if it has been included with the evidence filed under seal.