Diploma denial violated civil rights, suit alleges

Charging a litany of violations of her son’s civil rights, a parent has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Chico Unified School District, four of its trustees and several employees.

“They failed to serve my son,” said Jean Miller, whose son, Eric, attended Pleasant Valley High School under a special-education program from 1997 to 1999. “He worked really hard for his diploma, and then they just said, ‘You were absent too much; you can’t have your credits; you’re not graduating,'” Miller said. “It just devastated him, because he worked so hard.”

Both Millers, mother and son, are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. The papers were filed April 30 in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District in Sacramento, but the defendants weren’t served until Aug. 23.

The Millers say the district engaged in a campaign to discriminate against Eric and deny his rights to an education. The complaint asks for damages for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state Education Code, plus invasion of privacy, misuse of civil proceedings, defamation, fraud and misrepresentation and other charges.

The suit names the CUSD; Superintendent Scott Brown; Trustees Donna Aro, Scott Schofield, Rick Anderson and Ann Sisco; CUSD attorney Greg Einhorn; now-retired Assistant Superintendent Dave Reise; Director of Pupil Personnel Services Bob Feaster; PVHS Principal Mike Rupp; teacher Tim Murphy; school psychologist Audrey Knippen; and counselor James Burns.

Einhorn, who is handling the case for the CUSD, said the district has reviewed the case and is unimpressed.

“It looks to us that it’s defective both substantively and procedurally,” he said, mainly because the Millers haven’t exhausted all the administrative remedies open to them. “It will be dismissed.”

Einhorn said he was surprised to be served with the suit, especially since so much time has passed since Eric was in school, and the Millers’ contact with the district had tapered off and then ended altogether about a year ago.

“The district did make a real and substantial effort to work with both of them … on several ways that he could graduate from high school,” Einhorn added. “It wasn’t for lack of trying on the district’s part.”

Jean Miller is a name that is familiar to the CUSD. She has argued with teachers and administrators for years over the education of her son. In the mid-1990s, she fought a similar battle against the Paradise Unified School District over its learning plan for Eric.

Then, in February 2000, the CUSD went to court to get a restraining order against Jean Miller, who it said had been “harassing” a trustee and a teacher. The matter was eventually dropped, but now the district’s action is an element in the current suit, which claims the filing was a form of retaliation for her earlier complaints.

Miller is also the woman who sued the Butte County Board of Supervisors over violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act governing open-meeting laws. She has confronted the CUSD on the same principle.

Jean Miller said it was her son who led her to bring his situation into a legal arena. "He really wanted me to sue," she said.