School district faces lawsuits


— The Steamboat Springs School District has been threatened with two additional lawsuits beyond the potential $400,000 suit by former Steamboat Springs High School Principal Mike Knezevich.

The two new threats of legal action - one alleging an unfair contract bidding process and one claiming an infringement of federal civil rights - are pending, and no court filings have been made.

In one case, the parents of a district student allege repeated racial harassment in the schools, citing federal civil rights law. A 25-page document presented to the district by the parents' attorneys details a history of alleged discriminatory action against the student.

The lawsuit does not demand a set amount of damages, but it requests that the district "create ironclad policies, procedures, employee training and student educational programs which will not only enable students of color : to receive their education in an environment that is not racially hostile, but will also protect students and parents who bring allegations of racially hostility to school district authorities from retaliation."

The complaint says the parents "wish to pursue a lawsuit only as a last resort," and offers a meeting with the district to resolve the problems.

The suit claims the district violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by "deliberate indifference to student-on-student racial harassment," which caused the student depression throughout five years.

In response, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler sent a notebook of 16 district policies to the law firm Holland & Hart, attorneys for the family, and requested a meeting.

Asked whether the policies the district provided respond to the demands from the family, Hilton-Gabeler said, "There's always progress, but yes, they do cover all the issues."

Attorneys from Holland & Hart could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Bidding processes

A second legal correspondence from Child's Play of Colorado, LLC, claims the district violated fair bidding processes for the rubber surfacing around the base of the two new elementary school playgrounds.

The Lakewood company, through attorney Richard Clark, alleges the district chose a contract that was $300 more expensive than the $173,400 bid offered by Child's Play.

The letter, sent to the district and to officials with the Department of Local Affairs, claims the district ignored the second, lower bid from Child's Play.

The company requests the district accept the lower bid, but it has not claimed damages.

The bid was for recycled-rubber covering to cushion the areas around the two new universal playgrounds.

Knezevich update

No action has been taken in the suit threatened by Knezevich and his attorney, Joan Bechtold. Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said district lawyers and administrators are reviewing the lawsuit and soon will file a response. Although the Sept. 19 deadline for response, imposed by Bechtold in her correspondence with the district, has passed, the lawsuit has not been filed.

Reached in her Denver offices, Bechtold declined to comment on the suit. The suit claims the district violated Colorado law because the district did not have a written policy for licensed employee evaluation, the evaluations did not include an evaluation council, and former Superintendent Sandra Smyser did not hold an administrators' license at the time of the evaluations.

The suit also claims the three board members who voted not to renew Knezevich's contract - Robin Crossan, Denise Connelly and Laura Anderson - acted out of personal interest because of previous conflicts with Knezevich.

The notice of intent to sue states, "The amount of monetary damages cannot be ascertained at this time. However, Mr. Knezevich's damages for emotional distress and economic losses are considerable and will not be less than $400,000."


Ed Miklus 8 years, 6 months ago

That's why you have liability insurance. Happens all the time in school districts throughout the country.


JLM 8 years, 6 months ago

Actually that is why contract disputes should be resolved by binding arbitration --- it's less formal, quicker, less expensive and more open. Lawyers hate binding arbitration because it is not as lucrative as litigation.

Every wonder why the securities industry uses only binding arbitration? Look at your account agreement. You almost cannot sue a brokerage firm.


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