LCUSD Stands by Staff Accused in Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination

The La Cañada Unified School District said it is fully supporting staff members and a teacher who were accused in a civil lawsuit of unfairly targeting Korean American students after four high school pupils were disciplined for allegedly cheating on an AP European History exam last year. The lawsuit also alleges discriminatory behavior by certain La Cañada High School staff members.
“We vehemently deny the allegations of wrongdoing with respect to discipline issued as a result of students engaging in academic dishonesty. The district supports all students, staff and families and works to ensure that all learning environments and educational practices are welcoming, safe and non-discriminatory,” said a formal statement issued by the district and emailed by LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette.
The statement comes on the heels of a report in the Valley Sun about the suit that was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 11.
In the civil complaint that was obtained by The Outlook and is public record, four students and their guardians accuse LCHS’ principal and a history teacher of helping enact a “covert and systemic policy of discrimination against Korean students.” The four student plaintiffs received zeros as discipline and were required to essentially drop the class after it was claimed that they cheated on the test.
The lawsuit alleges that the Korean American students received different treatment and punishment than that received by white students and athletes for their actions regarding the same AP unit exam.
Andrea M. Tytell, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, filed a complaint for unspecified damages and a request for a jury trial. The plaintiffs are identified in the lawsuit by their initials because they are minors. In addition to Sinnette, the lawsuit names as defendants the district, LCHS history teacher William Lively, Principal Jim Cartnal, Assistant Principal Kristina Kalb and Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Anais Wenn.
A hearing involving both sides is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, in Los Angeles.
According to the alleged chain of events detailed in the lawsuit, one of the minors, who the complaint says has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was the first of the four to take and complete Lively’s Unit 3 European History exam during first period.
The student is described in the complaint as having impulsive behavior and lacking “consequential thinking,” and is “a shy young man who like most teenagers, seeks approval and acceptance from his peers.”
Lively administered the exam, which was conducted over several days due to block scheduling. The plaintiffs believe and allege the application of the exam was identical over that period.
Several students who had not yet taken the exam asked the boy to describe what kinds of questions were on it, according to the lawsuit.
“Feeling pressured,” he created a Google document that detailed what he could remember about the questions and exam format, the suit also said. It added that he then shared the document with at least 11 students, who in turn, shared it with others.
The other three student plaintiffs were among the original 11 students who received the document, and each of the three admits to “opening the email but denies memorizing or utilizing the contents in any way.” Many of the other students, according to the lawsuit, were Caucasian or school athletes.
“It must be emphasized that none of the plaintiffs received disciplinary action related to the receipt of [the original] Google document on Oct. 30, 2018, when it was initially discovered by the technical staff at the high school,” the complaint said.
However, the lawsuit also alleges that there was a concerted effort to discipline the four students later on. According to the complaint, Cartnal and Lively are very good friends and both taught AP classes at LCHS until Cartnal was promoted to principal last Dec. 7.
The remaining defendants — an apparent reference to Sinnette, Wenn and Kalb — “also knew about [the original] Google document yet also opted to take no disciplinary action against [the initial student] or the other plaintiffs until Cartnal ascended to the principal’s position on Dec. 7, 2018, some five weeks later,” according to court documents.
The lapse in time, according to the complaint, occurred amid final exams, causing harm to the students.
“Plaintiffs are informed, believe and thereon allege that the lapse of time afforded defendants yet another opportunity to sabotage Koreans by causing great stress and distraction to plaintiffs who, at that time, were studying for their finals,” the complaint states, adding that the defendants’ actions were “based on a history of resentment and disdain for plaintiffs.”
The document further says that Cartnal’s “very first order of business” as principal was to expel the four students from Lively’s class, give them zeros on the test and bar them from completing the second half of the AP Euro History course.
That discipline was issued to the students without warning, parental participation, the advice of counsel, a “true and unbiased” investigation and due process of law, according to the complaint.
“Without question, excluding plaintiffs from the second half of the AP Euro course equates to a de facto expulsion,” according to the complaint. “Moreover, because students are given college credit for AP courses, they were stakeholders who possessed a dedicated interest in passing the class in its entirety in order to earn the requisite college credit.”
The lawsuit also alleges discriminatory behavior toward Korean students, and “specifically, high achieving Korean students who are pillars of their school and community.”
According to the complaint, Lively “was openly hostile to Korean students” and “often berated them about their attire and other mundane matters such as their abundant respect, shyness, humility and reliance upon technology.”
At other times, the lawsuit says, “he would accuse them of cheating without reason or cause to do so. It was well known among Lively’s students that Caucasians and athletes would receive preferential treatment and were never the recipients of Lively’s verbal rants which were laden with racist ideologies. As a result, the Korean students openly referred to AP Euro History as ‘AP White Privilege History.’”
The other students who opened and used the initial Google document were either called into the office with their parents, were permitted to meet Cartnal with counsel or were not called in at all, according to the complaint. No athletes involved received punishment and “in fact, only the four plaintiffs were summarily expelled from the class and received zeros on the exam.”
In issuing the discipline, the lawsuit says, the defendants did not disclose how they determined the alleged use of the Google document or how they know if the document was even utilized.
“Defendants possessed a duty to conduct a thorough investigation of all available facts,” according to the complaint. “Despite this duty, no one ever contacted or interviewed any of the [disciplined] plaintiffs. Similarly, many of the students whom plaintiffs knew had looked at the Google document were not interviewed. Plaintiffs are informed, believe and thereon allege that during this five-week period, defendants conspired to simply wait until Cartnal ascended to the principal’s position, thus enabling him to administer his own severe brand of justice upon plaintiffs — all Korean students.”
According to the complaint, the previous principal — believed to be a reference to former LCHS Principal Ian McFeat — “knew about the incidents described herein when they occurred, yet he chose not to discipline the involved students.” When he was informed of the punishment, according to the complaint, “he verbalized his opposition, stating the punishments were ‘too severe,’ ‘excessive’ and ‘unusual.’”
The plaintiffs also allege the defendants “have a covert and systemic policy of discrimination against Korean students as evidenced by their onerous treatment of plaintiffs and delicate treatment of the non-Korean students despite ample evidence of their academic dishonesty.”
The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Tytell, told The Outlook in a statement she was “not able to comment” on the case.
Sinnette told The Outlook on Tuesday that, because the matter involves confidential student information, the district cannot comment on specific questions about the lawsuit.
She provided an official statement that was approved by legal counsel:
“Although we cannot discuss the specifics of this case due to pending litigation, the district stands in full support of our teacher and administration whose actions and responses in this matter are above reproach.”
According to the LCHS 2019-20 academic honesty policy found on the high school’s website, a “severe violation” is considered to include “giving students questions or answers to an [exam]” they are scheduled to take later in the school day or as a makeup test at a later time.
Under the category of “third offense or first, severe offense,” some of the potential discipline might include “a teacher recommendation will be made to the administration for an F in the class for the semester” and a “recommendation may be made for the student to be dropped from an Honors or AP class for one ‘severe violation’ or for a ‘third violation’ from the specific course he/she cheated in.”
Additionally, the assistant principal logs the offense in the discipline file and notifies all other teachers of the occurrence that the student has for the semester of the infraction.

Leave a Reply