NORTH BEND — Ex-North Bend High School Principal Bill Lucero is suing the North Bend School District for $2 million.
He is also suing to get his former job back as North Bend High School principal and to void the settlement agreements between the district and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
Those settlements were made a year ago after two students, Olivia Funk and Hailey Smith, came forward with allegations of LGBTQ harassment and alleged that Lucero forced another student to read the Bible as punishment.
Lucero filed the lawsuit against not just the district but outgoing-Superintendent Bill Yester, the board of directors and school district attorney Rebekah Jacobson.
His attorneys, Roland Iparraguirre and Shannon Rickard, filed the lawsuit arguing that the settlements signed between the district and the ACLU of Oregon were invalid because “there was no legal authority for such settlements.”
Lucero is asking for economic compensation “no greater than” $1 million because he is “now unemployable in any profession and by any employer except for the school district,” the lawsuit read.
He is also asking for non-economic damage compensation “no greater than” $1 million after suffering emotional distress, mental suffering, anxiety, humiliation, increased stress, and damage to his reputation, the lawsuit said.
Lucero’s side of the story
When Funk and Smith brought light to what they said was happening in the North Bend School District in regard to some LGBTQ students, the Oregon Department of Education conducted an initial investigation.
That investigation looked into accusations that “Lucero punished a gay student, who is not religious, by requiring the student to read from the Bible,” the lawsuit stated. It added that the investigation look into other accusations, including one over a student attempting to run over other students with his car and yelling derogatory insults at them.
During this investigative process, the lawsuit says that district attorney Jacobson never told Lucero she only represented the district.
“(Jacobson) never told Lucero to hire his own attorney (and) never told Lucero that his interests and the school district’s interests were or could become adverse,” the lawsuit said. “Jacobson’s words and actions led Lucero to believe that she represented not only the school district’s interests, but that she represented Lucero’s personal interests.”
The lawsuit added that she even went so far as to tell Lucero “she would fight for him” and that “there was no way Lucero would lose his job as high school principal” but that the worst possible outcome would be for him to receive training.
Then on August 23, 2017, Jacobson sent a letter to ODE “refuting or denying” the accusations made by ODE, the lawsuit said.
“Defendant Jacobson erroneously communicated to the ODE that Lucero denied offering a student the opportunity to read the Bible,” the lawsuit read, going on to allege that Lucero notified Jacobson of her mistake but she made no action to correct it.
When ODE issued its investigatory determination of the accusations, due to Jacobson’s mistake according to the lawsuit, ODE made a finding that Lucero lied.
“The school district knew or should have known that the accusations of wrongdoing that were specifically leveled against Lucero were false and misleading,” the lawsuit said. “Specifically, the school district knew or should have known that the accusation that Lucero forced a gay student to read the Bible as punishment was not true.”
As the lawsuit reads, Lucero offered the student an “opportunity” to read a passage from the Bible after she fell into trouble for “screaming and using foul language at school.” The Bible passage refers to “holding one’s tongue,” which the lawsuit says Lucero intended to be a teaching moment.
The event took place two years prior to ODE’s investigation. According to the lawsuit, Lucero notified Superintendent Yester.
“In fact, Defendant Yester communicated to Lucero his agreement with how Lucero handled the situation with the student,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant Yester’s failure to report any violation corroborates (Yester’s) belief that no violation of policy or otherwise existed, as (Yester) did not report any violation to the school board or the Teacher’s Standards and Practices Commission.”
The student who read the Bible verse issued a response after this came to light, which the lawsuit says was in no way about her sexuality, that she is not gay, and that she never identified with the LGBTQ community.
But two years after the event, the district issued Lucero a letter of reprimand.
“On April 19, 2018, Lucero responded to the letter of reprimand stating, among other things, that he offered the Bible passage as a non-punitive option to foster a positive learning experience for the student,” the lawsuit said. “Lucero further explained that, as a learning tool, he easily could have offered another source such as the Tao Te Ching, the Koran, or writings of other philosophers such as Buddha or Confucius. Defendant Yester ends his emails with a Chinese proverb.”
Claims for relief
The lawsuit includes nine claims for relief.
Those claims include declaratory and injunctive relief, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraudulent misrepresentation, intentional interference with employment relationship, invasion of privacy by false light, deprivation of Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process for property and liberty interest, and intentional infliction of emotional stress.
“Conversely, the school board and Defendant Jacobson knew or should have known that the only valid and serious accusations made by the ODE and the ACLU were made against the school board and school district personnel other than Lucero, including but not limited to Superintendent William Yester, and Title IX Coordinators Tiffany Rush and Ralph Brooks,” the lawsuit said.
It goes on to say that after Yester signed both settlement agreements with Funk and Smith, the ACLU issued a release followed by the district.
The district’s release stated that it was “pleased” with the outcomes, which Lucero’s lawsuit argues “confirmed the accusations against Lucero, thus irreparably and permanently damaging him.”
During the process, Lucero was also instructed not to respond to the press accounts regarding him and that the outcomes took away his “opportunity to be considered for the superintendent position in school district.”
A court date has not been officially scheduled yet, but a jury trial is being demanded by the lawsuit.