Ex-FFA member, CGUHSD in dispute
Judge orders district to pay some attorney feesPosted: Thursday, August 25, 2016 8:18 am
CASA GRANDE — A former student of the Casa Grande Union High School District is in a legal dispute with the district regarding records related to his membership in a school organization.
Attorneys representing John Baker, a former Casa Grande Union High School student, filed a complaint in May after the district reportedly failed to supply records tied to the district’s FFA program.
Baker had been involved in the program, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, and wished to submit an application to receive the FFA state degree, an honor in the organization. He reportedly was suspended from FFA in March 2015, according to court documents but still requested that the school submit his application.
An email sent to Baker’s family in April 2015 suggested that the student’s application was submitted but later recalled. However, Baker’s attorneys questioned whether the school had ever submitted the application.
In February, Baker submitted a formal request to the district seeking to review all documents related to his FFA application. He also asked for copies of all FFA state degree applications submitted by other students in 2015.
The district reportedly refused to release the documents due to standards set in the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which bars the public release of student records without parental consent.
Lori Kirsch-Goodwin, Baker’s Scottsdale attorney, stipulated that the FFA applications of other students could still be released with names and personal information blotted out. The district reportedly still did not grant this request.
Kirsch-Goodwin told the Casa Grande Dispatch she had wanted the applications of other students to compare signatures listed at the bottom of each. State degree applications must be signed by the school’s FFA adviser and the FFA state representative.
The plaintiff attorneys believed one of the signatures on Baker’s application had been forged to make it appear the school had submitted it. Therefore, the applications of other students could be used to compare and confirm the forgery suspicions.
To the surprise of the plaintiff attorneys, the district eventually admitted that Baker’s application was never submitted. According to court documents, CGUHS teacher Brittnie England declared the application was not sent and that signed copies of other student applications were not in her possession.
Kirsch-Goodwin said it was upsetting to discover that documents her client had been chasing after for months were never available. The question as to why the district did not submit Baker’s application remains unanswered, she added.
On Aug. 11, a Pinal County judge ordered the district to pay more than $8,000 in attorney fees to the plaintiff. The district’s attorney attempted to make the argument that the district shouldn’t pay attorney fees since it couldn’t deny access to records that it didn’t possess.
Judge Stephen McCarville concluded that since there was no mention of records being unavailable in court documents submitted by the defendant in June, the district was liable for paying some attorney fees.
The Dispatch reached out to the district’s attorney to ask whether it would appeal paying these fees but did not receive a response.
Kirsch-Goodwin said her clients have not decided yet whether to proceed with filing a lawsuit against the district and suing for damages incurred through the dispute.
Baker’s family declined to comment on the litigation to the Dispatch since the matter is still pending.
The district’s Governing Board may hold an executive session at 10 a.m. today to discuss the pending litigation. Executive sessions are not open to the public, and discussion of pending litigation is one of the reasons they are allowed under Arizona law.