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O.C. teacher opposed to cat dissections sues school district

A former English teacher at Newport Harbor High School is suing Newport-Mesa Unified, alleging that district administrators retaliated against her after she publicly questioned the need for students to dissect cat carcasses.

Karen Coyne claims in her Orange County Superior Court lawsuit that the district and several employees created a hostile work environment, violated her free speech rights and transferred her without her consent.

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Coyne is seeking a year of salary and benefits, which amount to about $84,000, plus unspecified damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering.

Newport-Mesa officials declined to comment.

Coyne, a vegan and animal rights activist, was the advisor for the school's Compassion in Action club, an animal advocacy organization, during her decade at Newport Harbor.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 9, claims that students had complained to Coyne for years about animal dissection in science and anatomy classes.

In September 2011, then-Principal Michael Vossen sent an email to the school staff that mentioned cat dissections being "a necessary skill in preparing our future surgeons," the lawsuit states.

In response to Vossen's email, Coyne sent him information that she hoped to distribute to students about dissection alternatives. Coyne informed science teachers and the principal that not offering alternative assignments violated the state education code, court papers state.

Vossen accused Coyne of rallying her students against dissection.

In May 2012, Coyne was informed that her teaching schedule had changed for the upcoming school year and that she would no longer have time to advise the student club. She also was directed by district staff to stop discussing the dissection issue, according to court papers.

Coyne is teaching at Costa Mesa High School this year.

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