Saturday, February 15, 2003

Appeals court won't enter squabble over education

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A lawsuit in which a disgruntled parent accused a private school of "educational malpractice" was rightly dismissed, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Courts routinely refrain from "entering the classroom" to settle legal squabbles over quality of education, a three-judge appellate panel said.

Mary Kay McGurl claimed that Friends School in Louisville was negligent in the education of her young son, John, and had breached his enrollment contract. Jefferson County Circuit Judge James Shake dismissed the lawsuit.

McGurl based her claim on the Kentucky Education Reform Act. But the appeals court noted that the law applies to public schools, not private.

"The provisions of the act do not suggest that the General Assembly intended to create a new avenue for civil litigation against schools and teachers," Judge Sara Walter Combs of Stanton said in the majority opinion. "The act does not provide for citizen lawsuits."

As for McGurl's claims of breach of contract and fraud, Combs referred to a deposition in which McGurl admitted the school made no guarantees about her son's advancement.

"Neither the school's enrollment contract nor any statements made by school representatives created a contract with respect to John McGurl's future academic performance," Combs wrote. "The enrollment contract provided simply for payment of tuition in exchange for admission into the school's offered program."

Judge Lewis Paisley of Lexington and Special Judge John D. Miller of Owensboro joined in the opinion.

McGurl also said she was defamed by her son's teacher and a classroom volunteer and was maliciously prosecuted for threatening. The teacher and volunteer were sued, along with the school.

John McGurl was enrolled in Patty Gilderbloom's first-grade class in 1997. By 1999, his mother had grown dissatisfied.

Gilderbloom suggested sending the child to a different school. She also said he might benefit from contact with his estranged father - a suggestion to which McGurl took offense.

In a telephone conversation with Linda Bowles, the classroom volunteer, McGurl made statements Bowles considered threatening. McGurl was charged in a criminal complaint, which later was mediated.

Combs' opinion said Bowles and Gilderbloom had an obligation to report McGurl's comments.

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