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Supreme Court Declines to Hear Superintendent's Appeal in Parental-Rights Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of a Texas school superintendent who was denied immunity in a case in which a teacher lost out on a promotion in the district because her children attended private school.

The justices declined without comment to hear the appeal in Smith v. Barrow (Case No. 07-1089).

The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought against the Greenville, Texas, school district and Superintendent Herman Smith by Karen Jo Barrow, a teacher who claimed she was denied a promotion to assistant principal because she refused to transfer her children from private school to the district's schools.

A jury found that Barrow's parental rights were violated, and awarded her some $15,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages against the superintendent.

Smith, who had lost on the issue of qualified immunity in an earlier stage of the case, appealed again. In an Oct. 23, 2007, opinion, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, reiterated its earlier ruling that the law was clearly established that public school employees have a constitutional right to send their children to private schools. The earlier ruling, from 2003, is here.

The appeals court also upheld some $650,000 in attorneys' fees and costs that the federal district court awarded to Barrow.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Smith defended the notion that a school district should be able to require its employees to enroll their children in the district's schools.

"Just as it should come as no surprise that General Motors might not be pleased if its CEO bought a Ford, it should come as no surprise that a patronage requirement for public school administrators might be considered appropriate," the superintendent's brief said.

The Texas Association of School Boards had filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the superintendent's side, urging the high court to accept the case the determine the proper level of scrutiny that should be applied to parental-rights claims.

Barrow had appealed a separate 5th Circuit court ruling in the case (the second of three, with the first and third being mentioned above), that had affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the school district in the case. The parent appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which denied review last October in Barrow v. Greenville Independent School District (No. 07-59).

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