United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
pending before the Court are a Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 34), Statement of Facts (Doc. 35), and Brief in Support
(Doc. 36), filed by Defendant Mountain Home School District
("the District"); a Response in Opposition to the
Motion (Doc. 37), Brief in Support (Doc. 38), and Response to
Statement of Facts (Doc. 39), by Plaintiff Patrick Gentry;
and the District's Reply (Doc. 42). For the reasons set
forth herein, the Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
January 20, 2014, Plaintiff Patrick Gentry, who was then a
senior at Mountain Home High School, and a female student
named Jamie Boelkens were seated in the auditorium of the
school waiting for a program to begin, when they began
discussing a teacher who had given them each a "B"
in his class. The two students thought they had earned
"A" grades. The teacher they were discussing was Coach
Ronnie Blevins, and the class in question was a college
preparatory course called "Capstone." At some
point, another student named Sarah Ross joined in Jamie's
and Patrick's conversation. Sarah allegedly suggested
that they report Coach Blevins to the office and write the
letter "B" in chalk on his car; Jamie suggested
they burn down his house; and Patrick suggested that they
pour pigs' blood over his daughter at prom, just as in a
scene from the horror movie Carrie. Patrick and
Jamie maintain that this conversation was very brief, and
that they were only joking and had no intention of following
through on any of these threats.
couple of days later, on January 22, 2014, Patrick was called
to the office and interrogated by Vice Principal Kyle McCarn
and School Resource Officer Chester "Bubba" Jones
concerning the statements Patrick had made about Coach
Blevins and/or his daughter. Then Patrick's mother
arrived at school and was advised both orally and in writing
that Patrick would be suspended for ten days. Jamie received
the same punishment. The discipline slip for Patrick listed
the reason for the suspension as "abusive or threatening
behavior." See Doc. 34-4. Patrick was also
advised by Vice Principal McCarn that if he wanted permission
to ask his teachers for the make-up work he missed during the
suspension, he would need to complete ten days of community
service. Finally, Patrick was asked which two teachers he
wanted to serve on his disciplinary advisement committee,
which would convene after he served his ten-day suspension.
Patrick identified two teachers to serve on the committee,
but he later testified that he was not told the purpose of
the disciplinary advisement committee meeting, nor was the
meeting referenced on his discipline slip. Patrick thought
the committee was convening to verify he had completed his
community service obligation.
February 7, 2014, following the suspension, Patrick and Jamie
returned to school along with their parents to meet with
their respective disciplinary advisement committees. Both
meetings took place on the same day, but Patrick's
occurred first. The persons in attendance at Patrick's
meeting were his parents; two of his teachers, Carol Wegerer
and Karen Maupin; Vice Principal McCarn and Vice Principal
Lindsey Blevins;and Jeff Kincade, the Director of the Guy
Berry Alternative Learning Environment ("ALE"),
which is an educational facility/intervention program
affiliated with the Mountain Home School District, located on
a campus apart from Mountain Home High School.
to meeting with Patrick and his parents, the staff and
administrators on Patrick's committee met separately with
Mr. Kincade. After that private meeting, the committee
invited the Gentrys in, and it soon became clear that the
committee had decided that Patrick should be expelled. They
offered one alternative to expulsion: mandatory enrollment in
the ALE for the rest of the semester. Mr. Kincade was present
at the meeting to explain to the Gentrys what the ALE was and
what Patrick could expect if he chose to attend in lieu of
course of the meeting, Patrick's parents informed the
committee that they were concerned about sending Patrick to
the ALE for a number of reasons. The ALE did not offer a
college-preparatory curriculum, and the courses Patrick was
in the middle of taking at Mountain Home High School were not
offered at the ALE-including, for example, Spanish II and
Linear Algebra. Patrick's parents did not feel assured
that he would be able to complete these classes while
attending the ALE. By that point, Patrick claims he had
already been accepted to six colleges, see Doc. 18,
p. 4, including his top choice, the University of
Mississippi, which had offered him a scholarship, provided he
could show proof that he was completing his graduation
requirements-specifically his foreign language requirement.
Patrick's parents understood that foreign language
classes were not offered at the ALE. They were also worried
about how Patrick's permanent record would be affected if
he transferred to the ALE, and about whether his diploma
would reference his graduation from the ALE, rather than from
Mountain Home High School. Finally, Mrs. Gentry testified
that they "were told he would have to wear a white
jumpsuit" as a student of the ALE, and that even if
Patrick were approved to take classes at Mountain Home High
School, which was not assured, he "would be transported
back and forth like a criminal...." (Doc. 37-4, p. 9).
Gentry supplied the Court with an affidavit that included
further details about the February 7 committee meeting. She
confirmed that she and her husband believed that placing
Patrick in the ALE just before his graduation, based on his
joking comment about a teacher's daughter, "was
unacceptable." (Doc. 37-3, p. 3). Nevertheless, she
understood "Patrick would be recommended for expulsion
if [she and her husband] did not agree to send Patrick to the
ALE, " and that if they attempted to enroll him in a
high school outside the district, "Patrick's
permanent record would reflect either the recommendation for
expulsion or assignment to the ALE, and this would follow him
to any Arkansas school district." Id. In order
to avoid the committee voting on the issue and making the
decision final, Patrick and his parents walked out of the
meeting, and the committee tabled its decision.
after Patrick's meeting ended, Jamie's disciplinary
committee meeting began. The ALE director had not been
invited to attend Jamie's meeting. According to
Jamie's affidavit, her meeting was "short, "
and she "was allowed to return to school without any
further punishment, " despite having admitted to the
committee that she had joked about burning down Coach
Blevins's house. (Doc. 37-16, p. 2).
Patrick's committee meeting ended without a formal
recommendation, Patrick and his parents contemplated moving
him to another school district. The same day as the meeting,
February 7, Patrick began completing a form provided to him
by the high school called an Exit/Withdrawal Report (Doc.
34-10). This Report states that the reason Patrick was
withdrawing from the District was that he was "moving to
Bull Shoals-Enrolling in Flippin." Id. The form
was signed by all required parties except Patrick's
counselor. See id.
of the lack of all required signatures, and for other reasons
that will be explained in the course of this Opinion, the
parties currently disagree about whether Patrick completed
the necessary paperwork to formally withdraw on February 7,
or whether the decision to withdraw was left somewhat up in
the air. Just three days after the committee meeting, on
February 10, Patrick's mother called the high school and
spoke with Principal Dana Brown and shared with her the
family's concerns about Patrick's proposed
discipline. Patrick had forwarded his mother a series of text
messages between a teacher from Mountain Home High School and
Jamie. To Mrs. Gentry, these text messages indicated that
certain school personnel intended for Patrick to shoulder all
the blame for the comments that both he and Jamie had made.
See Docs. 37-3, p. 3; Doc. 37-16. Also, by that
time, Mrs. Gentry had discovered that Jamie had been
permitted to return to school without further punishment, but
Patrick had been faced with the choice of expulsion or
transferring to the ALE.
Gentry met with Principal Brown on February 11, the day after
the phone call. Several other persons joined the meeting,
including Vice Principals McCarn and Blevins, School Resource
Officer Jones, and Coach Blevins. Mrs. Gentry described
Principal Brown as "very, very upset. . . and very
angry" because "Officer Jones told her it was
obvious that Patrick never intended any harm . . . ."
(Doc. 37-4, pp. 6-7). Mrs. Gentry asked Principal Brown for a
copy of Patrick's discipline record, since it was
apparently not discussed during the February 7 committee
meeting. Principal Brown told Mrs. Gentry that the
school may not have the record anymore. (Doc. 37-3, p. 3).
But at a later point in the meeting, someone procured the
discipline file and delivered it to Principal Brown.
Id. at 4. Mrs. Gentry then asked if there were any
notes from Vice Principal McCam's interrogation of
Patrick from January 22, and she was told there were not.
Mrs. Gentry also asked all those assembled why Jamie did not
receive the same punishment as Patrick. Id. She
claims she did not receive an answer. At the end of the
meeting, Mrs. Gentry told the Principal that she wanted to
resume the disciplinary committee meeting and "get a
decision." (Doc. 37-3, p. 4). She did so with the
apparent understanding that Patrick's withdrawal from
Mountain Home High School was not final, and that she did not
need "to do anything to either stop the withdrawal
process or to reenroll Patrick as a District student."
disciplinary committee reconvened the following morning,
February 12. Again, the committee met before Patrick and his
parents were allowed to enter. When the Gentrys joined the
meeting, they were informed that the recommendation was the
same: expulsion or the ALE. The summary judgment record
contains handwritten notes that the District represents were
taken during the meeting, see Doc. 34-12, p. 2,
possibly by Principal Brown, who was not a committee member,
but was nonetheless present. The notes indicate that the
Gentrys asked the committee: "why did girl get different
punishment." Id. At the end of the meeting,
Patrick's parents voiced their disagreement with the
committee's decision and refused to sign a form that
Principal Brown prepared that contained a brief description
of the incident involving Patrick, as well as the final
recommendations of the committee. (Doc. 34-12, p. 1). Mrs.
Gentry claims she refused to sign the form because she
believed Principal Brown's "description of the
incident included statements Patrick denied saying."
(Doc. 37-3, p. 5).
Gentry also told Principal Brown that she wanted to appeal
the committee's decision, and Principal Brown advised her
that she would contact the Assistant Superintendent on her
behalf. Principal Brown admits that she gave nothing in
writing to Mrs. Gentry that explained the proper steps that a
parent should follow in seeking review of the committee's
decision. See Doc. 37-9, pp. 16-17. The only option
she mentioned to Mrs. Gentry was appealing to the
Superintendent. Instead of notifying him, though, Principal
Brown contacted the Assistant Superintendent, Leigh Ann
Gigliotti, and communicated to her the Gentrys'
dissatisfaction with the committee's decision.
Id. at 11. Vice Principal McCarn also testified that
he did not specifically recall who forwarded the
committee's recommendation to the Assistant
Superintendent for review, but he believed that someone did.
(Doc. 37-13, p. 21).
Gentry met in person with Assistant Superintendent Gigliotti
after the committee's February 12 decision, and told her
what had happened, including the family's complaint that
Jamie had been treated more favorably than Patrick due to her
gender. According to Mrs. Gentry, the Assistant
Superintendent informed her she would review the matter and
make a decision by the end of the day. (Doc. 37-2, p. 5).
That same afternoon, the Assistant Superintendent called Mrs.
Gentry and told her the decision of the committee would
stand. Id. There is no information in the record to
indicate what evidence, if any, the Assistant Superintendent
reviewed, and the Assistant Superintendent's
deposition-if it was taken-is not included in the record.
Moreover, all of the committee members were deposed, and none
of them testified that they forwarded anything in writing to
the Assistant Superintendent for her review.
the Assistant Superintendent told Mrs. Gentry that the
committee's decision was approved, Mrs. Gentry requested
to speak with the Superintendent about Patrick's case,
since the Gentrys still disagreed with the recommendation.
According to Mrs. Gentry, the Assistant Superintendent told
her that she would make sure the Superintendent got the
message. He apparently never did. The Superintendent, Dr.
Lonnie Myers, testified during his deposition that he
remembered a single telephone conversation with Principal
Brown, prior to Patrick's disciplinary committee meeting,
"about a placement at Guy Berry, " (Doc. 37-14, p.
5), but he claims he never received anything in writing about
Patrick's or Jamie's specific cases, and he was never
provided with the facts, documents, or other evidence that
was reviewed by the disciplinary committee, id. at
6. Dr. Myers also admitted that he had no knowledge of any of
the facts supporting the committee's recommendation to
expel Patrick or else transfer him to the ALE. All Dr. Myers
could recall was that a student had made "a threat to a
student and a threat to a teacher." Id. at 9.
He further testified that neither the Principal, the
Assistant Superintendent, nor any disciplinary committee
member ever asked him to review the committee's decision,
id. at 13; and he was never informed that the
Assistant Superintendent met with Mrs. Gentry after February
12, or that Mrs. Gentry wanted to speak with him,
id. at 11-12. Nevertheless, Dr. Myers agreed that
the Assistant Superintendent may have been vested with the
authority to overrule the committee's recommendation in
his absence. Id. at 12.
Mrs. Gentry met with the Assistant Superintendent, she tried
to set up a meeting with the Superintendent by calling his
office "repeatedly" over the next two weeks. (Doc.
37-3, p. 6). At that point, Patrick had been out of school
for around a month. When she failed to hear anything from the
Superintendent, Mrs. Gentry decided to enroll Patrick in the
Flippin School District, where he completed his senior year
and then began attending the University of Arkansas. Mrs.
Gentry admits that she never appealed the committee's
final decision in writing to the Superintendent, nor did she
send a written appeal to the school board. By the same token,
Principal Brown admits that she only told the Gentrys orally
"that they could go to the Superintendent" to
appeal if they were dissatisfied with the committee's
decision, (Doc. 37-9, p. 15), and she never informed them
this request should be in writing or should otherwise be
directed to the school board, id. at 16.
now to Patrick's claims for relief, they are made
pursuant to Title IX, as codified at 20 U.S.C. §§
1681-1688, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Beginning with the
Title IX claim, Patrick contends that school officials
administered a more severe punishment to him, as compared to
Jamie, for making the same sorts of statements, and that the
disparate punishment he received was motivated by gender, or
that gender discrimination was the source of his alleged
Patrick's § 1983 claims, he maintains that the
District violated his constitutional rights to equal
protection and to due process. The Equal Protection Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the state from
discriminating against an individual due to gender. The Due
Process clause requires that sufficient process be afforded
one whose protected life, liberty, or property interest is at
stake. Here, Patrick argues in opposition to summary judgment
that the District had a policy or custom of discriminating on
the basis of gender, and that the administrative process that
he received concerning how he was disciplined in response to
this incident was fundamentally flawed, incomplete, and
violative of his constitutional rights. Below, the Court will
begin its discussion by reviewing the legal standard required
when considering a motion for summary judgment. Then, the