Coach Williams provided a “Parent-player information” sheet to the parents of the girls on the softball team. It included much encouragement to “be positive” and “supportive” and admonished parents that “playing time is a non-negotiable for coaches to talk directly to parents about.”
Here are a few of the things that one of the softball dads included in his mid-season email to the coach:
”You need to look at the books and find out which kid has made the least amount of errors on the team.”
”[another player] has made two errors already at 2nd base and you had to get onto her during the Dekalb County game and she does not cover bases at all. She has no idea what she is doing…..So you are benching an upper classman [Plaintiff’s daughter] to put her there. That is not understandable at all.”
“It seems from the comments I have heard that have came from you outside the park that you are extremely displeased with how we are running the program and have an exponential amount of opinions on how we should be running it…crazy we have to have that conversation at 6-0 in the district but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
After this spirited exchange the principal suspended the dad from attending games for one week, hoping that this would “put some time and space between him and Coach Williams.”
It didn’t. Dad, soon to be known as “the Plaintiff,” showed up at the next game and had to be escorted out by the School Resource Officer. Dad then sued everyone above a foot tall, alleging violations of the First Amendment (Free Speech), the 14th Amendment (Due Process) and a breach of contract.
The claims against the coach, principal, SRO, A.D. and another school official were dismissed based on qualified immunity. The court held that the First Amendment right to have an unfettered right to attend games after ripping into the coach was unclear. When the law is not “clearly established” the individual administrators cannot be held liable. Qualified immunity is what it’s called.
The claims of a Due Process violation were also dismissed, but this time because the law on this is “clearly established.” Citing an earlier ruling, the court noted that “to this Court’s knowledge, every court that has considered the issue has concluded that citizens, including parents, do not have a liberty or property interest in accessing school property.”
That took care of the constitutional claims, but there remained that breach of contract claim. Tune in tomorrow for that. It’s McElhaney v. Williams, decided by the federal court for the Middle District of Tennessee and cited at 627 F.Supp3d 911. It’s on appeal to the 6th Circuit.
DAWG BONE: WHAT EXACTLY IS AN “EXPONENTIAL AMOUNT OF OPINIONS”?
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Tomorrow: the contract for season tickets….