777 F.2d 776 (1st Cir. 1985), 84-1172, Alinovi v. Worcester School Committee

Docket Nº:84-1172.
Citation:777 F.2d 776
Party Name:Joanne ALINOVI, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. WORCESTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:June 28, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 776

777 F.2d 776 (1st Cir. 1985)

Joanne ALINOVI, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

WORCESTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 84-1172.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 28, 1985

Argued Aug. 18, 1984.

As Amended Dec. 6, 1985.

Page 777

Darragh K. Kasakoff, Worcester, Mass., with whom Seder & Chandler, Worcester, Mass., was on brief, for plaintiff, appellant.

James A. Toomey, Braintree, Mass., with whom Murphy, Lamere & Murphy, Braintree, Mass., was on brief, for defendants, appellees.

Before CAMPBELL, Chief Judge, BOWNES, Circuit Judge, and PEREZ-GIMENEZ, [*] District Judge.

PEREZ-GIMENEZ, District Judge.

Joanne Alinovi, a teacher at Midland Street School, in Worcester, Massachusetts, brought this action against the Worcester School Committee ("School Committee"), its members, and the Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools to redress alleged deprivations of her free speech and privacy rights as guaranteed to her by the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She asserted a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, claiming deprivations of her constitutional rights under color of state law and sought declaratory, injunctive, and other equitable relief and damages. Jurisdiction was invoked under 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331 and 1343.

In essence, Alinovi claimed, first, that defendants violated her Fourth Amendment privacy right when they disciplined her for refusing to give a copy of a paper she had written about a student in her class to her school principal, and second, that her First Amendment right to free speech was violated when defendants disciplined her for posting in her classroom on Parents' Night certain letters she had received from the administration concerning her refusal to give the term paper to the principal.

After a jury-waived trial, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found that defendants did not violate either Alinovi's Fourth Amendment privacy right or her First Amendment free speech right, and ordered that judgment be entered in favor of defendants.

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

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I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 1

Joanne Alinovi has been a tenured public school teacher in Worcester since 1971. Between September 1971 and May 1980 she taught fourth grade at Midland Street School. Since September 1978, the Principal at Midland Street School has been William Bombard.

The Legislature of Massachusetts has established a comprehensive statutory scheme for the provision of special education services to residents of the State. See, Mass.G.L. c. 71B. 2 Pursuant to the statutory scheme, the school committee of each school district in Massachusetts must identify those children in its schools who have special needs, i.e., emotional or physical problems that prevent a child from progressing effectively in a regular school program. The school committee must then evaluate the child's needs and develop a program of special education to meet those needs. At any time during the year a parent, a teacher, or a principal may initiate testing, evaluation and a conference among the classroom teacher, principal, parents, and other school professionals to develop a special program for the child. This is called a core evaluation.

During the 1978-79 school year, Alinovi had four special needs students in her class. One of her special needs students that year was Chris. In the fall of 1978, Principal Bombard, Alinovi, Chris's mother, the school psychologist and the special education teacher developed a program for Chris which required him to attend two half-hour sessions weekly outside the regular classroom with a special needs teacher and to periodically visit the school adjustment counselor for counseling.

During the fall of 1978 and January 1979, Alinovi had a lot of trouble with Chris in the classroom. Chris was hyperactive, would fight with other students, melted crayons on the radiator, and once threatened to jump out of a window. On another occasion Chris held a knife to his throat. Alinovi spoke with Principal Bombard about her problems with Chris, but the Principal told her that he was too busy to deal with Chris's problems. Alinovi talked to other people about Chris, including Mr. Generelli, the supervisor of special education at Midland Street School. After speaking to Mr. Generelli, Alinovi decided to request a re-evaluation for Chris to modify his special needs program; and she did so on February 1979.

During March and April of 1979, Alinovi took on her own time an extra credit evening course on "Mental Health in Education" at Worcester State College. To fulfill her course's term paper requirement, she wrote a case study of Chris. The term paper contained some criticism of Bombard's handling of Chris and of his dealing with Alinovi. However, other than referring to Chris by his first name only, the paper did not identify any person or place by name. When Alinovi gave the paper to her professor for grading, she expected that the paper would be discussed and would be an educational benefit to the professor. Although she testified during trial that she did not expect that the paper would be given to anyone in the Worcester public school system, she took no steps to insure that her professor did not copy the paper, and she imposed no conditions to maintain it as a private or confidential document.

On May 31, 1979, Alinovi, Bombard, Chris's parents, Mr. Generelli and other school professionals met at Midland to re-evaluate Chris's special needs program. In preparation for this meeting, each professional,

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including Alinovi, had prepared a written report on Chris's progress, which he or she had given in advance to the other participants and which formed part of Chris's official record. Alinovi also brought her term paper with her to the conference. Believing that the term paper contained helpful details about Chris and that Mr. Generelli, as conference chairman, was the person ultimately responsible for approving an educational plan for Chris after the meeting, Alinovi gave him the term paper before the meeting started. Mr. Generelli placed the term paper in his briefcase and never looked at it. 3 Alinovi did not read from or refer to the paper during the conference. At the end of the conference, Chris's parents decided to keep Chris's current educational program and signed a form to that effect. Realizing that Mr. Generelli would not need her term paper after all, Alinovi got the paper back from him.

The next day, June 1, 1979, the principal stopped Alinovi in the school corridor and asked to see her term paper. Because she did not want Bombard to read her criticism of him and because she felt it was her private paper, Alinovi refused to give it to him and told him that he already had all the relevant information about Chris. Thomas Friend, who at the time of these events was the Acting Supervisor of Elementary Schools, testified that he and other administration officials thought that Alinovi's case study was part of Chris's official file. Bombard, as principal of the school and as the one responsible for reviewing all of Chris's evaluation materials, felt duty-bound to see the paper.

Subsequently, on June 13, 1979, Alinovi received a letter from Thomas Friend asking her to meet with him and Bombard on June 19 to discuss her refusal to turn over her term paper. The letter stated that the meeting could result in disciplinary action against her. Alinovi attended the meeting accompanied by her lawyer, and the four discussed why she had refused to turn over her paper. Both Mr. Friend and Mr. Bombard told Alinovi that they considered her refusal to turn over her paper as insubordination. Alinovi, knowing that insubordination would be grounds for firing a tenured teacher, allowed her attorney to give the case study to the administration officials. At the end of the meeting, Friend told Alinovi that he would get back to her in about a week's time regarding any possible disciplinary action. However, the matter was not resolved within a week, and on June 28, 1979, the administration wrote Alinovi informing her that they were postponing any further meetings until the fall. Alinovi spent her summer vacation in Maine, under a good deal of stress because she was worried about what action the administration would take against her. During the summer, Alinovi sought psychological counselling.

Upon her return to school in September 1979, Alinovi received no word from the administration until October 3, when she got another letter informing her of a meeting to be held on October 11 with Superintendent Connor, Assistant Superintendent David St. John, Mr. Friend and Principal Bombard. This letter again mentioned the possibility of disciplinary action against Alinovi.

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The meeting was held but did not bring a resolution to Alinovi's problem.

On November 14, 1979, the school held a Parents' Night. The notice that went out to the parents describing the event stated that the teachers would speak to the parents about school programs and what the teachers expected from their students. Alinovi felt that Parents' Night would be a good opportunity to bring to the parents' attention the problem she was having with the school administration and the fact that it was not getting resolved. Accordingly, she posted on her classroom bulletin board, next to the parents' sign-up sheet, the three letters she had received from the administration. She then directed the parents to the sign-up sheets. On one of the letters, she wrote: "the meeting was held and I have received no communications regarding the matter since. So far this has cost me $60.00 in psychological counseling fees and hundreds...

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