What happens when classroom teachers get sued?

There is an interesting case brewing in New Jersey in which a parent claims that a school district is promoting Islam.  Jennifer Childress gave you a heads up about this case in the Daily Dawg on June 27th. Today I want to revisit the case to make some observations about classroom teachers as defendants.

The plaintiff sued the district, the superintendent, the director of curriculum, the principal, the supervisor of social studies and two middle school social studies teachers. I wonder what happened at the dinner table after the teachers found out about the suit.

Q:How was school today, honey?

A: It was good. All of my kids did well on the geography quiz. It was the nurse’s birthday, so we had cupcakes in the teacher’s lounge. The assistant principal asked me to serve on the advisory committee for next year. I got some very nice emails from one of the parents. Oh…and I’ve been named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit!

Despite widespread fear among teachers, they don’t get sued very often.  Lawsuits involving educational matters generally start at the higher pay grades. Superintendents get sued regularly.  Principals and HR directors occasionally. Teachers….very rarely.

But in this case, the plaintiff sued two overworked, underpaid classroom teachers.  Lawyers tend to not take this as seriously as teachers do.  Lawyers deal with lawsuits all the time, and understand how the process works. But put yourself in the shoes of a teacher unfamiliar with legal procedure.  Seeing your name on federal court papers can be terrifying.

This case is in its early stages, and the judge chose not to dismiss the teachers from the suit.  But he strongly suggested that the plaintiff should drop them.  The court noted that if it becomes necessary to issue an injunction “an order directed to the local school authorities should be sufficient,” meaning that it’s really not necessary to name individual social studies teachers.

The judge gave the lawyers a strong hint:

To simplify the administration of this case I direct the parties to discuss a reduction in the defendant roster at their upcoming conference before the Magistrate Judge. They may wish to focus in particular on the necessity, and the pedagogical ramifications, or retaining the two defendants who are middle school social studies teachers.

I read that to mean: leave the teachers out of this.

I expect someone of you are wondering about the merits of this case. Are they promoting Islam in New Jersey?  Tune in tomorrow.

The case is Hilsenrath v. School District of the Chathams. The judge’s order was signed on June 18, 2018.  We found it at 2018 WL 2980392.


 Tomorrow: Are they really promoting Islam in Jersey????