Court rules negative notice in teacher's file can stay

The Laguna Beach Unified School District does not need to remove a note from a teacher's personnel file that alleges she arrived at school drunk in December 2010, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled this week.

In his ruling, Judge Andrew Banks said Barbara Joan McKnight needed to prove that the school district's notice of unprofessional conduct "was arbitrary, capricious or entirely lacking in evidence, i.e. that the board action in issuing the notice was an abuse of discretion," according to a court document provided by McKnight's attorney, James Guziak.

Banks ruled Tuesday that he did not find that to be the case, writing that the school district was lawful in placing a notice in McKnight's file, said Daniel Spradlin, the school district's attorney.

"There was no abuse or improper action by the school district," Spradlin said.

The Orange County Register first reported the story.

McKnight was and is currently a science teacher at Laguna Beach High School. She denies the allegation, citing personal reasons for arriving late to school the morning of Dec. 10, 2010.

On that day, district administrators accused McKnight of arriving at school under the influence of alcohol and being insubordinate, according to a claim filed in Superior Court last November.

"McKnight did not come to school under the influence of alcohol, was not under the influence of alcohol at work and did not otherwise act unprofessionally," according to her claim.

Guziak sent a letter in January 2011 to the school board that said McKnight's brother was "gravely ill" and she was dealing with this and "other issues of compelling personal interest well into the evening of Dec. 9, 2010. She overslept the next morning and having done so, called about why she would be late.

"She was told an investigator would be hired, she [McKnight] would be interviewed, students would be interviewed, but none of those things happened."

Whether McKnight suffered a violation of her due process rights will be argued during a trial scheduled for Nov. 4, according to Guziak and Spradlin.

"We say there is a policy that mandates investigation into claims of harassment," Guziak said. "We'll be arguing her privacy was violated and this was all part of a campaign to retaliate against her for whistle blowing she did to school board members about [then Principal Don Austin]. The important thing is that there has been no court ruling on the accuracy of the intoxication claim."

Spradlin has filed a motion for summary judgment, in which a judge determines whether there are enough issues of fact to warrant a trial, he said. A judge is scheduled to rule on the motion Aug. 20.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World