316 F.Supp. 352 (M.D.Ala. 1970), Civ. A. 3072, Parducci v. Rutland

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 3072
Citation:316 F.Supp. 352
Party Name:Parducci v. Rutland
Case Date:June 09, 1970
Court:United States District Courts, 11th Circuit, Middle District of Alabama
 
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Page 352

316 F.Supp. 352 (M.D.Ala. 1970)

Marilyn PARDUCCI, Plaintiff,

v.

Jack D. RUTLAND, individually and as principal of Jeff Davis High School, W. S. Garrett, individually and as Assistant Superintendent of the Montgomery County Board of Education; Walter McKee, individually and as Superintendent of the Montgomery County Board of Education; the Montgomery County Board of Education, et al., Defendants,

Civ. A. No. 3072-N.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division.

June 9, 1970

Page 353

Morris Dees, Montgomery, Ala., for plaintiff.

Vaughan Hill Robison, and Joseph D. Phelps (of Hill, Robison, Belser & Phelps), Montgomery, Ala., for defendants.

ORDER

JOHNSON, Chief Judge.

Plaintiff was dismissed from her position as a high school teacher in the Montgomery public schools for assigning a certain short story to her junior (eleventh grade) English classes. In her complaint, which was filed with this Court on April 27, 1970, plaintiff alleges that defendants, in ordering her dismissal, violated her First Amendment right to academic freedom and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. Plaintiff's claim for damages and request for jury trial as contained in her initial complaint were stricken by amendment. The defendants are the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools of the county, the Associate Superintendent, and the Principal of plaintiff's high school. Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief is authorized under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The jurisdiction of this Court is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4).

Plaintiff was graduated with high honors from Troy State University in June, 1969. Upon graduation, she entered into a one-year contract to teach English and Spanish at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, such contract to commence in October, 1969.

On April 21, 1970, plaintiff assigned as outside reading to her junior English classes a story, entitled 'Welcome to the Monkey House.' The story, a comic satire, was selected by plaintiff to give her students a better understanding of one particular genre of western literature-- the short story. The story's author, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., is a prominent contemporary writer who has published numerous short stories and novels, including The Cat's Cradle and a recent best seller, Slaughter-House Five,

The following morning, plaintiff was called to Principal Rutland's office for a conference with him and the Associate Superintendent of the school system. Both men expressed their displeasure with the content of the story, which they described as 'literary garbage', and with the 'philosophy' of the story, which they construed as condoning, if not encouraging, 'the killing off of elderly

Page 354

people and free sex.' 1 They also expressed concern over the fact that three of plaintiff's students had asked to be excused from the assignment and that several disgruntled parents had called the school to complain. They then admonished plaintiff not to teach the story in any of her classes.

Plaintiff retorted that she was bewildered by their interpretation of and attitude toward the story, that she still considered it to be a good literary work, and that, while not meaning to cause any trouble, she felt that she had a professional obligation to teach the story. The Associate Superintendent then warned plaintiff that he would have to report this incident to the Superintendent who might very well order her dismissal. Plaintiff, who by this time had become very emotionally upset, responded to this threat by tendering her resignation.

On April 27, a hearing was held before this Court on plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order. Although plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order was subsequently denied, defendants agreed at the hearing to allow plaintiff to withdraw her resignation and to accord plaintiff a hearing before the Montgomery County Board of Education on the question of dismissal. 2 The School Board hearing, in which both sides participated, was held the following day. On May 6, the School Board notified plaintiff that she had been dismissed from her job for assigning materials which had a 'disruptive' effect on the school and for refusing 'the counselling and advice of the school principal.' The School Board also advised the plaintiff that one of the bases for her dismissal was 'insubordination' by reason of a statement that she made to the Principal and Associate Superintendent that 'regardless of their counselling' she 'would continue to teach the eleventh grade English class at the Jeff Davis High School by the use of whatever material' she wanted 'and in whatever manner' she thought best.

Having exhausted all her remedies within the school system, plaintiff immediately renewed her motion for a preliminary injunction in which she sought her immediate reinstatement as a teacher. The present submission is upon this motion, the response thereto by the defendants, the evidence taken orally before the Court, including the testimony of several witnesses and exhibits thereto, and the briefs and arguments of the parties.

At the outset, it should be made clear that plaintiff's teaching ability is not in issue. The Principal of her school has conceded that plaintiff was a good teacher and that she would have received a favorable evaluation from him at the end of the year but for the single incident which led to her dismissal.

I

Plaintiff asserts in her complaint that her dismissal for assigning 'welcome to the Monkey House' violated her First Amendment right to academic freedom.

That teachers are entitled to First Amendment freedoms is an issue no longer in dispute. 'It can hardly be argued that either students or...

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