Delaware school district pursues reckless policy

District sued for religious oppression gets in legal mess with insurer over a trifle

by, August 24, 2006

Court documents unsealed this week show that the Indian River School District in southeastern Delaware gave the most trifling of reasons for defying the insurance company defending it in a lawsuit over its policies favoring Christianity and creating an atmosphere of religious intolerance.

Statements in the unsealed documents suggest that, in scuttling a proposed settlement which its own members negotiated, the district was intentionally rupturing relations with its insurer. That behavior is consistent with JewsOnFirst's report earlier this month that the Rutherford Institute, a conservative Christian legal organization, was encouraging district board members to pursue the lawsuit as a Supreme Court test, rather than settle it.

Two families sued the district in 2005 after board members refused their requests for policies that would foster religious tolerance. Instead, the district let itself become the focus hostile community organizing; board defenders expressed anti-semitism and threats to members of one of the families, the Dobriches, who subsequently fled the district. The other family in the lawsuit, the "Does," remain in the community.

District board balks at transfer for plaintiff children
One of the supposed sticking points to a settlement was bumping the Doe children to the head of the line for admission to arts schools. The Does requested the transfer because they feared their children would suffer retaliation, the News Journal reported on its website, Delaware Online.

The Indian River District board said in one of the unsealed filings:

This term of the proposed settlement agreement was unacceptable because it disregraded the standard procedures for admission to the District's arts schools, which had waiting lists and required auditions as spaces became available. In addition, this term would have resulted in the denial or delay of admission to two non-plaintiff students seeking admission to the District's arts schools.

Ironically, the families' lawsuit complains that among the special privileges the district gave students in the Bible club was going to the head of the lunch line.

Another of the board's deal-breakers was a requirement that it use the term "Winter Break" rather than "Christmas Break" in school calendars. Board members found this to be "unnecessarily restrictive" and "well beyond what was constitutionally required," according to the board's filing.

The strangest reason the board offered for rejecting the proposed settlement was a boiler-plate requirement that it commit not to "revoke or amend" the policies it undertook to adopt as part of the settlement (the equivalent of promising not to stop payment on a check -- or being expected to pay with a cashier's check).

"This provision would have unlawfully usurped the authority of this and future school boards from developing educational policy for the District," the board explained, lamely.

Settlement proposal rejected
The board voted to reject the settlement in February, even though its members participated in the negotiations, a lawyer for the plaintiff families told JewsOnFirst in an interview for our earlier report.

That rejection caused the insurance company that had been defending the district -- and would have paid out any settlement -- to stop its defense and sue the district. The documents unsealed this week come from that case, Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company vs. Indian River School District, which Graphic Arts filed in April.

In its response to Graphic Arts' complaint, the district justifies its behavior, saying that the insurers' lawyer "did not meet with the Dobrich Defendants in advance of the mediation session or attempt to obtain settlement authority from the Dobrich Defendants regarding non-monetary settlement terms."

Graphic Arts quotes its position on authorization from the policies it issued the district. Those policies give the insurer the right to "investigate any allegation of a 'wrongful act' and settle any 'claim' or 'suit' that may result."

The insurance policies also oblige the district "to cooperate with us in the investigation or settlement of the 'claim' or defense against any 'suit,'" Graphic Arts says.

Oddly, the policy issue that the Rutherford Instititute appears to want to test in the Supreme Court -- prayer at school board meetings -- does not get explicit mention in the district's list of four policies in the proposed settlement that it rejected. (The Rutherford Institute did not respond to detailed questions relayed through its spokeswoman.)

In its response to Graphic Arts complaint, the district describes the policies: "a policy on religion within the school and classroom setting, prayer at commencement exercises and baccalaureate ceremonies, multi-step complaint procedures for violations of these policies and a policy relative to training programs."

More elaboration on prayer policy in Dobrich case filing
The board's prayer policy is explicitly mentioned in ample detail in the district's response to the Dobrich-Doe amended complaint, filed on July 12th. One of the attorneys who signed that document is Jason Gosselin. In a telephone interview for JewsOnFirst's previous report, Gosselin volunteered that he has worked as an affiliate of the Rutherford Institute, but is not currently. Nonetheless, as Gosselin noted in that interview, a Rutherford affiliate who worked briefly on the Dobrich case is the personal lawyer of one of the board members.

The News Journal reported this morning that, according to Gosselin, the district proposed a settlement to the two families last month.

Local support for Christian expression
Letters and comments to local papers suggest that the board has community support for its patently unconstitutional religious practices. Some local residents are circulating a petition that states "Please help us to make Del. the first state to bring prayer back in our schools," the Coastal Point weekly reported. ( JewsOnFirst is co-sponsoring an open letter to the Indian River District board promoting religious tolerance. To add your signature, click here)

An early comment to today's News Journal/DelawareOnline report is typical of sentiment expressed to local media and reported in the Dobrich-Doe lawsuit as coming from the local talk radio station and elected representatives. The early morning poster wrote:

If that so called family doesn't like our CHRISTMAS BREAK mentioned then they should just go BACK to where they came from,, i REALLY wish i lived next too the morons,, i would erect a CHRISTMAS sign & face it right toward their house to read each & everyday,, GO BACK TO WHERE EVER YOU CAME FROM LOSERS. NOW I WILL SUE YOU FOR BEING MORONS Just who do these whatever they are,, THINK they are ???

Presumably these supporters of the unconstitutional establishment of religion should be just as enthusiastic about tax increases to finance a settlement for the Dobrich-Doe case or to settle other claims arising against the uninsured district.

TOPIC: Public Education > Religious Bullying in Delaware Schools