http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2011/10/26/teacher-district-reach-settlement-framework


Almanac

Schools - October 26, 2011

Teacher, district reach settlement framework

by Dave Boyce

A Menlo-Atherton High School math teacher, who sued the Sequoia Union High School District on grounds of discrimination, has reached a framework for a settlement with the district, lawyers say. But the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.

In the lawsuit, the teacher, Manuel Delgado, alleges discrimination in connection with his disabilities, his Hispanic ethnicity, and his qualifications. He also alleges retaliation by school officials and claims damages that include medical expenses and emotional and mental distress.

The settlement "has not yet been finalized in writing and the timing of its completion is uncertain," district Superintendent James Lianides said in an email.

Attorneys involved in the suit, citing a confidentiality agreement, are not disclosing the terms of the settlement, including payments, if any, to Mr. Delgado. And they may not disclose the terms even after the settlement is completed.

Open government laws with respect to settlements by public agencies might be difficult to apply, one of the attorneys said, because the district was represented by an attorney working for the San Mateo County Schools Insurance Group.

David Secrest, an El Granada-based attorney who represented Mr. Delgado, said in an impromptu analysis that claims paid by an insurer may be insulated from disclosure.

Attorney Jim Ewert of the California Newspaper Publishers Association commented in an email that state courts have ruled that confidentiality provisions with respect to public agencies are unenforceable and that settlement terms are part of the public record. In any case, Mr. Ewert added, unless the insurance company is named in the lawsuit, which it is not, its involvement is "legally irrelevant."

In his October 2010 complaint, filed in San Mateo County Superior Court, Mr. Delgado says he has type 1 diabetes and an anxiety disorder. He is qualified only to teach basic algebra and now teaches two such classes at M-A, Mr. Secrest said.

Recent school years have been turbulent for Mr. Delgado. In 2008, the administration at M-A canceled a computer-oriented math class he had long taught, and assigned less credentialed "Caucasian" teachers to the replacement classes, the complaint said.

Mr. Delgado was assigned a living-skills class and an English class for students preparing for the high school exit exam, material he said he was not qualified to teach. In the complaint, he said he asked, in light of his condition, to be assigned to a single classroom located near a restroom, requests that went unanswered.

By 2009, Mr. Delgado had obtained a math credential to reinforce his specialty in business math, but his assignments included the English classes and three algebra classes, including two for students not adequately prepared for high school work, commonly referred to as "below basic." The "array of discipline problems" in these classes led two psychiatrists to recommend that Mr. Delgado not teach such students, according to the complaint.

"Mr. Delgado is a decent man. He has worked for the district for 15 years. He has an anxiety disorder, properly diagnosed," Mr. Secrest, his attorney, said in a telephone interview. "He handles (his disorder) very well. He's a very courageous guy. He just wants to teach."

The school administration has to juggle its curriculum with a limited number of teachers, and Mr. Delgado is qualified to teach just a single subject, John Shupe, a Burlingame attorney representing the district in the case, said by telephone. "Sometimes they could give Mr. Delgado what he wanted and sometimes they couldn't."

The lawsuit names as defendants Principal Matthew Zito, vice principals Steve Lippi and Simone Rick-Kennel, math department Chair Gregg Whitnah, and Debbie Moore-Washington, an assistant superintendent with the district.

The defendants would not comment on the case, but Susan Vickrey of the Sequoia district's human resources office said in a telephone interview that Mr. Delgado is qualified to teach algebra 1, which is typically an eighth-grade class. His credentials "are extremely limiting if you're talking about teaching high school math," she said.

About 30 percent of Sequoia district students are considered under-prepared, Ms. Vickrey said. "It would be far-fetched to find any teachers who don't teach below-basic and far-below-basic kids (simply) because they are so much of our population."

Mr. Secrest noted that Mr. Delgado's current classes include below-basic students. How is he doing? "He's hanging in there," Mr. Secrest said. "It's barely tolerable."

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