Tulare City School District faces federal COVID lawsuits
Two pending lawsuits in federal court allege that the Tulare City School District (TCSD) and its employees engaged in discriminatory behavior while attempting to slow the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic in schools across the city.
Both cases involve the district’s attempts to keep its students and employees safe from an ongoing wave of deadly diseases — COVID-19 has so far killed more than six million people worldwide, including nearly one. million Americans, of whom more than 1,300 are Tulare County residents.
Yet the lawsuits are based on opposing ideals, with one claiming the TCSD is not doing enough to help its students with special needs, while the other claims attempts to provide safety are a violation. civil rights of an employee.
Unmet special needs
The first of two cases is presented in court on behalf of a 5-year-old TCSD preschool student with autism who is identified in court documents only as JM. The lawsuit alleges that the district failed to provide JM with a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) tailored to the needs arising from his learning disability during the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, the district’s lack of action led to JM harming himself, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, JM’s mother reported incidents in which her son harmed and attacked her when she attempted to use district-provided work packets instead of instructions in person.
A month after the TCSD campuses closed in March 2020 – as well as those across the state – JM’s mother informed school officials of the failures she suffered while trying to replace teaching her son’s school. She met with officials several times during the remainder of the school year in June, but the two sides were unable to come up with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). JM’s mother and doctor felt that he met his needs.
This eventually led to mediation between the parties before an administrative law judge in which the claims of JM’s parents were partially substantiated.
Problem not addressed
During this time, JM’s misbehavior increased, becoming more aggressive and violent.
“During this period, JM had to go to the emergency room because he bloodied his nose and blackened one of his eyes due to his maladaptive behaviors,” the lawsuit against TCSD states.
The private clinical school in Fresno where JM’s mother tried to get enough hours of one-on-one instruction, ABA Talk, reported that JM’s behavior also deteriorated, with the boy throwing temper tantrums, spitting, attacking students and staff, and fleeing the facility.
The failure to act in JM’s best interests and in accordance with his IEP was an intentional act, his attorney claims.
“This was not a situation where (TCSD) discussed the need for such support in a meaningful way,” wrote Daniel Shaw, a San Luis Obispo attorney, on behalf of his client. “On the contrary, when JM’s attorney attempted to get Tulare to discuss the possibility of providing Jackson with some level of in-person support, Tulare’s own attorney stated in no uncertain terms that the school district was not going to not consider providing in-person support, nor would they consider contracting with outside vendors.
The lawsuit seeks a federal court finding that JM was not offered a free and appropriate education, guaranteed by law, by the Tulare City School District. He also seeks reimbursement of the cost of private school placement, the cost of hiring an assistant, interest, attorney’s fees, and “such other relief as this court may deem just and proper.”
Ed Aide sued a large group
A second federal complaint against TCSD was filed in January by a bilingual teacher’s aide at Cherry Avenue Middle School over the district’s new policy of requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a weekly test result. negative to be able to work.
Guida Dennis sued her employer, district administrators, the school where she works and Tulare County after being told she would lose her job for refusing to comply with an August 12, 2021 change in COVID policy. .
According to her lawsuit, Dennis refused to comply because of her religious beliefs and was warned of the fallout, including suspension and job loss, by Ira Porchia, the TCSD’s director of child safety.
Porchia is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as are TCSD employees Jennifer Marroquin, the district’s COVID-19 Early Years and Learning Loss Mitigation Director, and Phillip Pierschbacher, TCSD Assistant Superintendent of Staff.
Cherry Avenue Middle School is also a named defendant.
The neighborhood filed a motion on Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuitbut an order says it “may still be several months before the motion in this case is resolved” due to a “significant backlog” of cases before the Federal Court.
School politics trump God
Dennis’ lawsuit claims the defendants violated several of her constitutional rights by demanding actions that she says violate God’s will. To support his claim, Dennis submitted a religious exemption letter signed by his pastor. It was accompanied by a letter from Dennis stating his reasons for objecting to taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccines and invasive COVID swab testing, Dennis says, violate her God-given rights, and she included an Old Testament passage as material supporting her decision to go out among Tulare students without taking the vaccine.
The Bible, she says, makes it clear that our bodies are temples that do not belong to us.
“Therefore, I cannot agree to give you my personally identifiable DNA and other genetic material,” Dennis wrote. “It violates my sincere beliefs as a Christian.”
The letter and a response from Pierschbacher were sent on October 20, 2021. The district’s response was specific.
“The state requires all school districts to test employees who are unvaccinated for COVID-19 or refuse to report their status,” he wrote. “I have explained to you that you have no choice whether to test or not. If you choose not to test … (you will go) on unpaid leave (after using all available leave – personal necessity, vacation and / or clearing time).
Why Sue Tulare County?
Why Tulare County is included in the suit is a bit murky. According to the lawsuit, which comes from attorney Howard Williams of Martinez, Tulare County is partly responsible for the fallout from Dennis’ decision to ignore COVID-19 safety protocol because the board of oversight voted earlier. within a year to give individual school districts the right to determine their own COVID-19 policies.
According to the lawsuit, when supervisors voted on July 20, 2021, they gave authority over COVID-19 safety protocols to local school districts. This act indirectly led to Dennis being furloughed in August.
Regardless of how TCSD gained the authority to require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test from its employees, the district is clear about what will happen to those who refuse to comply with safety protocol.
“If your religious beliefs prevent you from complying with our policy, you will be disciplined,” Pierschbacher told Dennis at one point in their correspondence.
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