Former San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens’ lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Unified School District has come to an end after a Santa Barbara judge sided with the district on Friday.
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 re-file. Judge Maxwell chose to postpone and reconsider her decision after hearing last-minute arguments from both sides on Wednesday.
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 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 can still obtain work as a teacher and administrative positions in schools are simply promotional teaching levels.
Judge Maxwell sided with the district and affirmed last weeks tentative ruling on Friday, determining that because Mr. Behren still works in the education field, he was not deprived of a liberty interest and he has no claim.
“We are thankful that the court has ruled in our favor on all fronts in the Behrens case,” said Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. “We look forward to a bright future at San Marcos High School under the leadership of Dr. Kip Glazer.”