ENCINITAS — The status of San Dieguito Union High School District’s lawsuit against the San Diego County Board of Education remains unclear, as district statements do not match court records.
According to Interim Superintendent Larry Perondi, the district’s attorneys have effectively “placed a toll on the lawsuit,” a move Perondi likened to “a pause in the timeline.”
However, no such tolling — a legal term for delaying or suspending the effect of a statute, such as the statute of limitations — exists on the case record. The county was served a summons on July 30, according to San Diego Superior Court filings.
Perondi also said the district was pursuing “a potential opportunity” related to the case that couldn’t be publicly disclosed.
As previously reported by The Coast News, San Dieguito’s lawsuit attempts to appeal the county’s reversal of a district-ordered expulsion that resulted from a Torrey Pines High School student’s alleged “terroristic threats” on social media. The district expelled the student (whose name cannot be given) on March 16 by a board vote of 4-1, with John Salazar dissenting.
The student’s family then filed an appeal with the county. On May 31, the county overturned the district’s expulsion order, citing “a prejudicial abuse of discretion … because the decision to expel is not supported by findings … and the findings of a terroristic threat are not supported by the evidence.”
The district, by law, was supposed to immediately reinstate the student at Torrey Pines and have the expulsion record expunged. The district defied the order by refusing to re-enroll the student in June. On June 29, the law firm then representing the district, Artiano Shinoff, filed a writ of administrative mandate and request for immediate stay at San Diego Superior Court.
In mid-July, the county had not yet been served the lawsuit — the next step required to pursue litigation. Perondi told The Coast News around that time that the district would discuss whether to serve or drop the suit during closed session at the next board meeting on July 26. He also explained that the district would have to decide whether to seek different legal counsel given that Artiano Shinoff would probably not be allowed to represent the district since it had previously represented the county.
After closed session on July 26, the district announced it had taken no action. Yet the district had to have decided to hire a different law firm because on July 30, a court record was filed reflecting that Erickson Law Firm A.P.C. would be taking the case. Furthermore, court records show that both the county and the student’s parents received a summons on July 30.
An attorney for the district, Berta Blen of Erickson Law Firm, did not respond to a call seeking clarification. Given the lack of details of what did or did not transpire in closed session, it is unclear whether the district followed proper reporting protocol.
If the district could successfully appeal the county’s decision, it would still have to reinstate the student at Torrey Pines by January 2019, according to the original expulsion terms.
An updated public-records request shows that the district spent $703,535.20 on legal fees during the 2017-2018 school year, an amount roughly double the previous year’s legal costs.
Rita Raden, parent of a recently graduated district student, urged the board during public comment on July 26 to invest money into training students on proper conduct (i.e., why it’s not appropriate to joke about threatening a school) rather than “bleeding the budget” with lawsuits.
Raden continued, “We urge the board to drop this needless lawsuit and stop traumatizing the student and family and allow the student to re-enter the school … .” She noted that the only “winners” in this scenario are the attorneys collecting payment.