The Capistrano Unified School Circus
A California school district permits its non-attorney employee to improperly issue an illusory Cease and Desist Notice to a mom for filing a claim against an employee for improper behavior.
A few weeks ago, I hand delivered a Tort Claim Form (the “TCF”) to the Board of Trustees of the Capistrano Unified School District (“CUSD”) during the public comment period of a regularly scheduled meeting. The TCF was prepared by California Attorney Alexander Haberbush with the assistance of a Southern California Mother, Chelsea Boyle, on behalf of her seven-year-old daughter (hereinafter referred to as “Jane” to protect her identity).
As the TCF alleges, Jane was publicly forced to apologize by the Principal of Viejo Elementary School, Jesus Becerra, for drawing a picture with the words “Black Lives Mater [sic]” followed by the words “any life” (the “Picture”) and giving it to a classmate as a gift (hereinafter, the forced apology shall be referred to as the “Incident”). The Incident was humiliating and traumatic for Jane. For reasons she is still too young to understand, she was forced to apologize in front of her friends on the playground for a completely innocent act. As an additional punishment, Jane was made to sit out of recess and told not to draw any additional pictures for her friends.
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Amazingly, Mrs. Boyle wasn’t notified of the Incident until about a year afterwards. Since then, physical evidence and witness accounts (including a conveniently amorphous accounts offered by Jesus Becerra) have corroborated Jane’s allegations. Upon learning of Jane’s horrific situation, The Gavel Project (a 501(c)(3) public charity) retained California Attorney Alexander Haberbush of the Lex Rex Institute (“LRI”) to represent the interests of Mrs. Boyle and Jane.
Upon delivering the TCF, which was produced on LRI letterhead, I made a brief public comment notifying CUSD’s Board of Trustees and attending staff of the fact that Mrs. Boyle and Jane were represented by Alexander Haberbush of LRI. The TCF lists “Alexander H. Haberbush, Esq.” and his requisite contact information at the top of the document. There is no question; Mrs. Boyle has an Attorney.
Despite CUSD knowing of the fact that the family is represented—on Monday, July 25, 2022, Mrs. Boyle received an email (and, later, a letter via mail) on CUSD Letterhead (including the names of each Board Member and Superintendent Kristen M. Vital Brulte) entitled “Demand to Cease and Desist Spreading False Information/Request for Consent to Release Student Education Records” (“Cease and Desist”).
At first glance, the Cease and Desist reads as if written by a lawyer. It asserts that Mrs. Boyle is making “false claims to the media” about the Incident and that CUSD’s internal investigation “revealed” her claims as “untrue.” The Cease and Desist further claims, “Principal Becerra never reprimanded [Jane] about the artwork, and this was conveyed to you by Principal Becerra[.]” It argues that Mrs. Boyle has failed “to offer evidence to substantiate [her] claims” before asserting that her allegations are “frivolous and unfounded.” The Cease and Desist then asks Mrs. Boyle to consent to the disclosure of her daughter’s personally identifiable information for the purposes of publicly discrediting Jane’s allegations.
Amazingly, the Cease and Desist isn’t signed by a lawyer. Instead, it’s signed by “Dr. Gregory Merwin, Associate Superintendent, Education and Support Services.” As written, the Cease and Desist is illusory and entirely improper. Had an attorney signed it (or participated in its drafting), he or she would be subject to discipline for violating California Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2 and be endanger of losing his or her license.
As a represented individual that publicly filed a TCF with the district on her Attorney’s letterhead (the same Attorney that has been interviewed by a media correspondent that is running for CUSD’s school board and appeared on Fox News discussing this matter), Mrs. Boyle shouldn’t have received this letter. It (along with any communications related to the Incident) should have gone to Alexander, whose identity is undeniably apparent to CUSD’s leadership. Sending a letter threatening legal action this directly to Mrs. Boyle can only be explained as an attempt to intimidate, harass, and/or retaliate against the mother of a victim for exercising her Due Process and First Amendment Rights.
Setting aside the purpose of the letter, CUSD’s substantive claims—that Mrs. Boyle’s allegations are untrue and frivolous—are nonsense based solely on the facts addressed in CUSD’s internal complaint process. Responding to CUSD’s Cease and Desist letter on behalf of Mrs. Boyle and Jane, Alexander meticulously covers the evidence addressed in CUSD’s internal investigation (“Rebuttal”).
Alexander opens the Rebuttal by pointing out the ridiculous nature of CUSD’s internal investigation process, which permitted Jesus Becerra to investigate and exonerate himself. In CUSD’s “Level 1 Response,” dated March 15, 2022, Mr. Becerra abjectly denies recollection of the facts and circumstances related to the Picture (“Level 1 Response”). He also reports having no written record of the incident. Despite the utter lack of recollection and supporting evidence, Mr. Becerra claims that he is “confident” that he notified Mrs. Boyle about the Picture. He apparently, however, does not recall how such notice was provided or what, exactly, he stated to Mrs. Boyle. Notably, the Level 1 Response contradicts Mr. Becerra’s prior dismissal of Mrs. Boyle’s allegations in a March 9th email as “absolutely false.”
Despite all of this, Mr. Becerra ensures Mrs. Boyle that Jane was not “punished” for the Picture. This conclusion is based not from Mr. Becerra’s recollection of the incident but, rather, from what he thinks he “would” have done in such a situation. The Rebuttal points out the logical discrepancy of Mr. Becerra’s position, “parents are not routinely notified of [unassigned] pictures their children have drawn, yet [Mr. Becerra] claims that he did so here, despite their being no apparent reason to do so[.]” He also held onto a copy of the Photograph for nearly a year before Mrs. Boyle was notified. He offers no reason for retaining the Photograph. Without offering any specifics relevant to the Incident, Mr. Becerra finds himself blameless. All Mrs. Boyle wanted was an apology.
Unsatisfied with Mr. Becerra’s unilateral determination of his sinlessness, Mrs. Boyle escalated the complaint process to the next level. To the extent that CUSD investigated the allegations, they merely spoke with the parents (hereinafter referred to as the “Parents” to protect their identities) of the child (hereinafter referred to as “Child B” to protect the child’s identity) to whom Jane gifted the Picture (“Level 2 Response”). These Parents (who reported that the picture wasn’t drawn with “ill intent”) apparently spoke with Mr. Becerra about the picture at some unspecified date and time. CUSD has no record of this conversation. Importantly, B’s Parents weren’t alleged by Jane or Mrs. Boyle to have been involved in the Incident in any way whatsoever—beyond bringing the Picture to Mr. Becerra’s attention, which is consistent with Mrs. Boyle’s allegations.
The Level 2 Response also seemed to serve another purpose for CUSD, to harass and intimidate Mrs. Boyle into dropping her complaint. The remainder of the Level 2 Response consists of cherry-picked and irrelevant text messages, sent nearly a year after the subject events, and disparaging remarks concerning the same. Like the Level 1 Response, the relevant facts addressed in the Level 2 Response are consistent with Mrs. Boyle and Jane’s allegations; nothing from the Level 1 or Level 2 Response contradicts Jane’s account of the incident.
Unsatisfied with CUSD’s and Mr. Becerra’s refusal to merely apologize for humiliating her daughter, Mrs. Boyle escalated the complaint process to Level 3. CUSD issued its Level 3 Response on July 21, 2022, only after Mrs. Boyle lawyered up (“Level 3 Response”). The Level 3 Response acknowledges improprieties of CUSD’s prior investigations, offers no additional evidence related to the Incident, and does not attempt to explain why CUSD retained the Picture. The Level 3 Response, nevertheless, finds that the Incident did not take place.
The Rebuttal explains, “as CUSD has failed to investigate the Incident with any rigor, Jane’s account is the only account of the Incident. Unless and until some evidence has been put forward to oppose Mrs. Boyle’s account of the Incident, she is justified in repeating it as unopposed.” (Emphasis original). A limited review of what CUSD has produced in its Responses demonstrates that “there is no evidence that contradicts Jane’s account of the Incident, much less to justify CUSD’s demand that Mrs. Boyle cease and desist from repeating her account of the Incident.”
Finally, the Rebuttal concludes by refusing to consent to the disclosure of Jane’s confidential information. Alexander notes, “CUSD has provided no legal reason why Mrs. Boyle should disclose her daughter’s confidential records. It has simply tried to bully her into doing so using legal language to imply a threat. Unwanted and undeserved attention toward a seven-year-old minding her own business is the central matter of this case. We do not see how any legitimate purpose is served by further attention.”
Since bringing her complaint forward, Mrs. Boyle has been attacked, harassed, and retaliated against simply for wanting an unbiased investigation and an apology. The attacks have come not just from the district, but from members of the community as well. Children shouldn’t be publicly shamed into accepting superficial axioms that are demonstrably inconsistent with reality (such as CRT and the majority of “woke” ideals). This is especially true when the children are “well intended” and are not yet old enough to even understand why they are being shamed.
CUSD must recognize that Mrs. Boyle intends to pursue this matter as far as necessary to hold the district accountable, including pursuing claims for monetary damages. She believes that she is not the only parent that has been shamed and belittled by CUSD’s top administrators in response to filing legitimate grievances against employees. She hopes the district will come to realize the significant impact the Cease and Desist letter has had on her family. Receipt of this letter in fact traumatized Mrs. Boyle. The anxiety caused her to lose sleep and feel physically ill. CUSD’s failure to communicate with her Attorney is—at best—a reckless oversight and—more likely—an intentional attempt to intimidate a citizen out of pursuing a legitimate claim.
Mrs. Boyle hopes that CUSD will come to the table to resolve this matter in a way that also benefits CUSD families by protecting their children from similar misconduct in the future.
The Gavel Project is a wholly crowdsource funded public charity (organized as a 501(c)(3)). We pay attorneys to provide pro bono representation for clients like Mrs. Boyle and Jane, where outcomes of litigation can provide a potential benefit to society.
We are staunchly committed to protecting the Civil Rights of all Americans, especially children, and are involved in a number of other matters related to government abuses (most of our work relates to medical freedom). I often travel to speak at school board meetings and advocate against policies aimed at harming children. I also travel to teach families how to disobey unconstitutional and otherwise illegal mandates.
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