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Former JVES principal plans to file suit

by Sharon Carter

Following in the wake of a recently settled lawsuit between the Douglas County School District and one of its administrators, another suit alleging the district, its superintendent and board of trustees violated the civil rights of a district administrator is currently in the final stages of preparation.

Kirk L. Cunningham, 48, former principal at Jacks Valley Elementary School, said he approved a draft version of a complaint earlier this week and expects it will be filed in U.S. District Court in Reno in the very near future.

Allegedly because of his poor health, Cunningham, who has 22 years with the district – 15 of them at Jacks Valley – was removed from his position at the North County school July 7 of last year, after a closed personnel session.

“We’ve given them (the district) six months to right the wrong, but they’ve done nothing but cause further grief,” Cunningham said Friday. “It’s time for somebody to call a spade a shovel.”

n District defendants. Named as defendants in the lawsuit will be Douglas County Superintendent of Schools Pendery A. Clark and school board members David Brady, Cheri Johnson, Michele Lewis, George Echan, Randy Wallstrum. Don Forrester and Diane McCoy.

The complaint particularly targets Clark, alleging she “…fabricated charges against the plaintiff; arranged, prior to the ‘closed’ personnel session… to hire Pam Gilmartin as Principal of the Jacks Valley Elementary School… concealed the nature of the pretextural charges against (Cunningham); and lobbied the members of the Douglas County School Board, both before and during the the hearing … to assure that the outcome of the hearing would be predetermined.”

The lawsuit also alleges Clark had received written assurances from Cunningham’s doctor, William O’Shaughnessy, that Cunningham was capable of continuing as principal at Jacks Valley. It also states Clark knew and informed the school board that Gilmartin was pregnant and would requirean extensive leave during the school year.

n New assignment. At the July 7 school board meeting, Cunningham was reassigned as a “principal on special assignment” at Gardnerville Elementary where he was to share duties with GES Principal Dick Brownfield. The reason given for the board’s decision, which Cunningham’s lawsuit claims amounted to a demotion, was that due to poor health, Cunningham had used 70 days of accrued sick leave during the prior school year.

“But my contract with the district is in black and white,” Cunningham said. “It says they can reassign me if I miss 90 days in a school year. I’ve never been out 90 days in a school year. They’re the losers in this and the taxpayers who have to pay the school district’s attorneys are the losers.”

Cunningham, who is being treated for high blood pressure, blood clots in his legs and herniated disks in his back, said the district has exacerbated his health problems by pressuring him and treating him poorly.

n Doesn’t want a million. In the draft version of the lawsuit, Cunningham claims he suffered lost career income, a severely damaged career path, embarrassment, mental anguish, loss of self esteem and aggravation of his preexisting partial disability. He also asserts the actions of the defendants were oppressive, malicious and intentional.

Cunningham will ask for compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $150,000, as well as attorney fees and court costs.

“I don’t want to ask for $1 million and bleed the district,” Cunningham said. “What I do want to do is get their attention and let them know they can’t go around violating people’s rights.”

n District response. In a prepared statement issued by the Douglas County School District Friday, Maggie Allen, the district’s communications liaison, said the school district reorganization in which Cunningham was reassigned involved no loss of salary or benefits to Cunningham.

“The Douglas County School District hoped this arrangement would give Mr. Cunningham time to recuperate and address his health issues,” the statement said. “The Douglas County School District believes this was a compassionate and caring approach to Mr. Cunningham’s health problems and that it was in the best interest of the students and staff at Jacks Valley Elementary School. The Douglas County School District does not believe that Mr. Cunningham was demoted and considers his (potential) lawsuit to be without merit.”