A student complaining about a grade is certainly not a new development but threatening to file a lawsuit against a student for disputing a grade is a different story. As hard as it is to imagine such a thing, that’s exactly what happened to young Monserrat Ramirez of California. The girl contested her grade after her teacher gave the group she was in a C+.
Ramirez went through the proper channels, first appealing to her teacher, then to the administrators of the school. Finally after finding no suitable resolution elsewhere Ramirez turned to the Basset Unified (La Puente, CA) school board to have the matter resolved and that’s when the young woman was issued a letter from the teacher’s lawyer, Michael Feinberg.
In a letter sent from Feinberg’s law firm, Ramirez was told that her comments and communication with the school board were classified as “actionable slander” and was advised that further comments from her could result in “costly litigation”. Initially the letter had the desired impact, essentially silencing Ramirez.
“I was going to give up as soon as I saw that.” Ramirez said.
This would be the end of the story in most cases, but 18 year old Ramirez isn’t like most people. The honors student with a 3.5 GPA couldn’t just stand by and let this go; her grades were hard earned and one teacher shouldn’t be able to put a black mark on an otherwise excellent student record.
The teacher, Tom Covington, taught Ramirez’s yearbook class. While the other students in her group were goofing off or failing to show up at all, Ramirez showed up faithfully and completed all work assigned to her within the time allotted. When an editor for the yearbook quit Ramirez was responsible for the work of that editor in addition to her own.
Bassett Unified Superintendent Marty Galindo confirmed that Ramirez followed proper channels when contesting her grade and said he feels Covington’s actions were “unfortunate and overboard”.
Tom Covington defended his actions by stating that: “My intent was to have this little girl stop dragging my name through the mud. As a teacher, what I have to go on is my reputation and false accusations can wreak havoc on a career.”
The threatened lawsuit against Ramirez may be a potential suppression of First Amendment rights. Covington’s lawyer declined to comment on the matter.
If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.