SJC: Former Lee student may sue over suspension
LEE — Katelynn Goodwin was suspended from Lee Middle and High School in 2011 for a crime she did not commit.
On Tuesday, the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled a Berkshire Superior Court Judge erred when he dismissed the suit she filed against the school for unlawfully suspending her and causing her to miss the remainder of her senior year and the opportunity to graduate with her class.
"She deserves a new day in court and the SJC has given her a new day in court," said Attorney Joseph Schneiderman, who represented Goodwin.
A representative from the Lee School Department said they had no information about the decision and declined further comment.
According to the 17-page decision, Goodwin was suspended, "on the mistaken belief that (Goodwin) had been charged with a felony, stealing, or being involved in the theft of a firearm."
Being charged with a felony, even in an off-campus incident, would have been a violation of school policy and an offense for which she could have been suspended.
Goodwin, however, had not been charged with any felony nor had any criminal complaint been filed to that effect.
In January 2012, the school sent a letter to Goodwin's mother informing her the suspension would be in place "for the duration of all criminal proceedings as a result of the issuance of criminal complaints by the Lee Police against (her)."
The following April — three months after the suspension began — she was charged out of the Juvenile Court with receiving stolen property under $250, a misdemeanor.
At Goodwin's request, a meeting was held on May 2, 2012, seeking to have the suspension lifted.
The school decided Goodwin could return to classes, but would not be allowed to attend graduation with the rest of her class.
With that in mind, Goodwin decided to not return to classes and reached an agreement with the school on how to complete the missed credits and earn her diploma, which she did in the summer of 2013.
Goodwin also rejected an offer from the school to hold a graduation ceremony for her alone.
Goodwin filed suit in Berkshire Superior Court in December 2014, claiming the suspension was illegal and sought compensation for not being permitted to participate in her final year of high school and, "in the rite of passage that is graduation."
"You can't go back in time to restore Ms. Goodwin to her senior year in high school," Schneiderman said.
The school filed a motion to dismiss that suit, claiming Goodwin had not exhausted all of her other administrative options with the school before proceeding with the suit.
Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder agreed and dismissed the case.
The SJC ruled Kinder erred in his decision, stating Goodwin wasn't required to exhaust her administrative remedies because her suspension was unlawful in the first place because she never had been charged with a felony.
Schneiderman said he hadn't yet spoken to Goodwin about the decision, but said both he and Goodwin's mother were "thrilled" she gets her day in court.
Pittsfield attorney Raymond Jacoub, who will take over the case said on Tuesday it's too early to discuss any specifics of what kind of compensation may be sought.
Jacoub said either the SJC will notify Berkshire Superior Court about the decision or he will file a motion himself to have the case brought back into court.
At that point, Jacoub said the School Department can either choose to settle the case or it can be brought to trial.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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