School Corporation responds to federal lawsuit, disputes claims

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The Switzerland County School Corporation has filed its response to the federal lawsuit filed by Susan Jill Cord, which claimed that the school corporation and superintendent Tracy Caddell violated her First Amendment right of free speech.

The lawsuit against the school was filed in U.S. District Court in New Albany on August 1st; and the school corporation, through the law firm of Bose, McKinney, and Evans in Indianapolis, filed its response on Monday.

Attorney Steven Groth filed the response, which addressed each of the 29 paragraphs contained in the lawsuit filed by Susan Jill Cord. One response was filed on behalf of all three “defendants” – the school corporation, Tracy Caddell as the superintendent, and Tracy Caddell as an individual.

The response admits to many of the routine facts filed in the initial section of the lawsuit; but disputes that Tracy Caddell should be included in the lawsuit as an individual.

The school corporation’s response disagrees with Susan Jill Cord’s lawsuit when the discussion of the meeting that took place between Susan Jill Cord, her husband, William Cord; and Tracy Caddell and then middle school principal Candis Haskell on May 2nd, 2006.

– Susan Jill Cord’s lawsuit claims that prior to the May 2nd meeting, her, “…Employment evaluations from the school had been generally positive and favorable.”

The school corporation denies that the statement is a fact.

- In paragraph 10, Susan Jill Cord’s lawsuit states that she and her husband scheduled the May 2nd meeting, “…In order to discuss community issues of public concern including, but not necessarily limited to, the School’s high school drop-outs, the School’s counseling services, the School’s failure to properly use $5 million in grant money for technology as was the purpose of the grant, the School’s lack of or deficiencies in special education and homebound education services, and discipline in the School.”

The school corporation’s response states that the, “Defendants are without sufficient information to admit or deny the averments of paragraph 10 of Plaintiff’s complaint.”

– In Susan Jill Cord’s lawsuit, paragraph 11 states that “After approximately twenty (20) minutes, Caddell abruptly ended the meeting and instructed Cord and her husband to leave his office and the School’s property.”

The school’s response, Superintendent Caddell admitted that he ended the meeting with Susan Jill Cord and her husband, “…After Plaintiff’s husband made personal attacks on the Principal….”

– As for the information in the lawsuit of Susan Jill Cord, the school corporation’s response agrees with what happened next: that the Cords did not leave the property; that law enforcement was called; and at that time they did leave the property voluntarily.

The school corporation also admits that the superintendent suspended Susan Jill Cord from her teaching job for three days on May 3rd, 2006 because of insubordination; but the school’s response denies that Tracy Caddell called Susan Jill Cord into his office on May 22nd, 2006, “…Where he advised Cord that her teacher’s contract was in jeopardy.”

- The school corporation’s response also denies that the superintendent imposed “directives” upon Susan Jill Cord; and that many of the directives were, “Onerous and inconsistent with one another and also with the directives which Cord had been given by the School in 1999 which were re-imposed and made a part of the directives given to her by Caddell in May 2006.”

– The school’s response agrees that around May 16th, 2007, Susan Jill Cord received a recommendation by Candis Haskell that her teaching contract be terminated; and that the recommendation included, “…Unfavorable and unsatisfactory comments regarding Cord’s performance.”

The response also agrees that the recommendation became part of Susan Jill Cord’s personnel file.

– The school corporation admits that Susan Jill Cord has a right under the First Amendment to speak out on matters of public concern; but deny that the conversation that took place on May 2nd, “…Related to and touched upon matters of public concern.”

The response also disagrees with Susan Jill Cord’s lawsuit claim that, “The statements made by Cord and her husband to Caddell and Haskell at the meeting on May 2, 2006 as described in the above paragraphs, did not interfere with and were not inconsistent with the School’s interest in fulfilling its mission entrusted to it by laws.”

It also disagrees that the meeting did not, “Impede Cord’s ability to work effectively as a teacher or as a School employee.”

– The response agrees that Superintendent Caddell suspended Susan Jill Cord for three days from her employment and that he made notations in her personnel file; but deny that he placed unreasonable restrictions on her employment.

Finally, the school’s response states that the school’s actions were not a violation of Susan Jill Cord’s First Amendment rights; and that she suffered damages as a result of the situation.

Finally, the school has no objection to the matter being decided by a jury trial.