Truancy case spurs lawsuit

Parents file a civil-rights complaint against Orland Unified

Shannon and Jamie Anderson filed a lawsuit against Orland Unified about a year after their troubles with the district began.

Shannon and Jamie Anderson filed a lawsuit against Orland Unified about a year after their troubles with the district began.

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One year ago, Orland parents Jamie and Shannon Anderson were arrested on their front porch and hauled to Glenn County Jail in a case related to their son’s alleged truancy.

The felony charges filed against the Andersons—they were accused of forging a doctor’s note to keep Logan, then 8, out of school—drew considerable publicity. Logan had racked up many absences that academic year related to his asthma, but on the day in question, his parents said he had the flu. The charges against Shannon and Jamie Anderson—surprising because of their severity—were eventually dismissed by a Glenn County Superior Court judge.

The Andersons, with some reluctance, posed for an updated photo this week, days after a Monterey attorney filed a lawsuit on their behalf, alleging multiple civil-rights violations.

The lawsuit, filed March 16 by attorney Seth Goldstein, names as defendants the Orland Unified School District as well as former truancy officer Terry Deen, Superintendent Chris von Kleist, former Fairview School Principal Steve Hiscock, an attendance clerk and school nurse, and Orland doctor James Corona.

The lawsuit says Orland Unified failed to accommodate a child with a documented disability, that its truancy officer circulated false information affecting Jamie Anderson’s reputation, and that the district’s truancy program was driven by a determination to maintain state funding tied to average daily student attendance.

None of the parties who have been named as defendants could be reached for comment. But attorney Paul Boylan, who represents OUSD on general matters, though not on this case, said the allegations “aren’t true.”

“All of the district’s employees acted appropriately and within the scope and duty of their responsibilities,” Boylan said. “As public employees, they cannot be sued for acting within the scope of their responsibilities. I’m confident the district will prevail.”

Goldstein would not comment on a case in litigation.

The lawsuit points out that Shannon Anderson was “handcuffed … in front of her minor children” and taken to jail, as was her husband, and says the parents “were subjected to public humiliation …”

In regard to Logan’s asthma, Goldstein says in the lawsuit, “No action was taken by OUSD to address the child’s disability and offer alternative schooling options.”

The lawsuit says the district’s former truancy officer, Deen, is a former police officer, and “in concert” with another OUSD employee, “illegally obtained criminal arrest records” for a man who has the same name as Jamie Anderson and “spread rumors among the population falsely accusing Mr. A. of having a long criminal record.

“Mr. Deen had the records for the wrong [Jamie Anderson],” the lawsuit states.

Anderson is a Chico diesel mechanic who said he has no such criminal record.

Officials from OUSD said this week that Deen no longer works at the district. No contact information for him could be found by this newspaper’s deadline.

The lawsuit tackles the matter of OUSD’s truancy crackdown, stating: “Mr. von Kleist announced that the issue of truancy was one of money. He also stated on several occasions that he thought truants and their parents should be treated as criminals.”

The complaint charges that OUSD failed to train staff in the “correct manner in which to enforce the truancy laws of California.” The lawsuit also says the Andersons were falsely arrested and that their arrests were part of a “pattern and practice” in OUSD.

Glenn County’s District Attorney’s Office, the agency that pressed charges against the Andersons, is not named in the lawsuit, but prosecuting attorneys generally enjoy immunity in such cases.

The lawsuit notes that the alleged civil-rights violations have been particularly damaging because Orland is a small town. The Andersons “were unable to go anywhere in town without being asked, ‘Aren’t you those truancy parents?’” the lawsuit states.

Corona, the physician, is excluded as a defendant from the alleged civil-rights violations. However, the complaint does accuse him of violating “Physician-Patient Privilege.”

According to the suit, Corona released information from Logan’s medical records, in violation of federal privacy requirements. It says he “falsely informed” Deen that Logan did not have a doctor’s excuse to miss school Jan. 11 when Deen called, apparently attempting to verify whether the note was authentic.

Corona did not return a call to this reporter by deadline.

The arrest warrants that set off this saga were issued for the Andersons and another couple on Feb. 18, 2010. All four parents were accused of forging doctors’ notes. The parents denied the charges, but it was the Andersons who sought private counsel and spoke out publicly. The felony charges against the Andersons were dismissed May 12.

The lawsuit does not specify an amount being sought for damages.