Today's page 4A article on the conclusion of the lawsuit, written by education reporter Emily Younker, has a final paragraph that is simply not true.
The article also fails to mention the name C. J. Huff even once and you cannot understand the lawsuit or its conclusion without understanding the role the Joplin R-8 School District's former superintendent played in it.
Of course, people who receive all of their information from the Globe still are unable to understand why the board of education rid itself of the self-proclaimed hero of the Joplin Tornado (or they believe that he really retired.)
The basic story is that the board decided not to appeal Judge Douglas Harpool's ruling on the amount of attorney fees (slightly more than $150,000) the district should pay the American Humanist Association and Benson and Associates, the law firms that represented Jane Doe, who sued the district over a May 2015 field trip taken by North Middle School students to Victory Ministries and Sports Complex.
The article concluded with this statement:
In 2015, the American Humanist Association filed suit against the school district on behalf of a parent over student field trips to Victory Ministries and Sports Complex, which the group contended violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment calling for the separation of church and state.
Federal Judge Douglas Harpool agreed with that claim in March and barred the district from conducting future school-sponsored activities at Victory "or any other religious venue."
Sorry, Miss Younker, or whichever Globe editor butchered your story, but Harpool's ruling says nothing of the sort.
There is absolutely nothing to stop the Joplin R-8 School District from scheduling field trips to Victory or any other religious venue as Harpool made clear in his decision. In fact, his decision made it abundantly clear, that the MAP celebration field trip, a social occasion for the students, would not have been a problem were it not for the field trip permission slips from Victory that specifically allowed Victory employees to talk up their religion and allowed Victory to use photographs of the students in its advertising.
That information has never been mentioned in any of the Globe articles about this lawsuit.
Huff was warned about the permission slip problem in plenty of time to take corrective action, but instead blithely chose to ignore warnings that legal action might be filed.
After all, it was the taxpayers' money that was spent to settle this lawsuit, not Huff's and his retirement netted him a nifty quarter of a million going-away package, including $50,000 in consulting fees, a provision designed specifically so he could help with the lawsuits his leadership brought the district.
The Globe has never mentioned Huff's e-mail to American Humanities Association's legal director David Niose, in which he acknowledged the problem, but made it clear that he was not going to do a thing about it.
Thank you for your email regarding your concerns over the field trip to Victory Gym. The trip is a celebration for the hard work the students did this year. The students voted for this location. The activities and approaches are completely secular in nature. The permission slip was the standard waiver of Victory Gym. We have not had any parents contact us about concerns, but if they do, we will assure them the secular nature of the trip. Your email brings a good point for us to review the waivers of locations better so our communication can be clearer. I believe removing the language on the waiver would have created more clarity and removed the confusion for the parents regarding the nature of the trip. Definitely something for us to be diligent towards in the future. Thank you, again. CJ
What came out during discovery was that Victory Ministries officials offered to issue new permission slips that would remove the language that caused the problem.
Though there was time to do that and it would have put the district in a better position when the lawsuit was filed, Huff never bothered to follow through.
That was mentioned by Judge Harpool in his decision, though he did not mention Huff by name.
The) Court also considered that the Defendants had every opportunity to avoid this lawsuit. Defendants were put on notice far in advance of this litigation of the issues raised by Plaintiffs, but failed to proactively address or eliminate the problem with the consent and waiver form. The Court finds it unfortunate that in this case the taxpayers’ dollars will be used to pay for the Defendants’ failure to identify and correct this legal issue without the cost and expense of litigation.
Harpool also acknowledged that it was not a complete victory for the American Humanist Association when he trimmed their initial $211,000 request for legal fees down to $150,000.
In its legal brief opposing the attorney fees request, the R-8 District asked that the fees be reduced because it was not a total win for the AHA:
Plaintiff’s Complaint and Proposed Judgment sought an injunction wholly prohibiting Defendants from attending Victory. However, the relief actually awarded to Plaintiff fell far short. Instead, Defendants were enjoined from attending Victory under three enumerated conditions in the Court’s Judgment. Many of those conditions are ones that were not actually at issue in this case, e.g., there was no evidence that students were subjected to sermons.
Defendants did not—and would not—dispute that it would be improper to engage in the enumerated conditions. Defendants never claimed a desire to allow students to appear in religious promotions or to send out the release with the problematic language in the future. Instead, Defendants merely argued that the facts and circumstances of the trip to Victory had not violated those conditions. The injunctive relief actually granted Plaintiff falls far short of that sought in her Complaint and supports a reduction to the proposed fee award.
None of that information has ever made it to the pages of the Joplin Globe, which would appear to be attempting to demonize those who filed the lawsuit, while at the same time continuing its protection of the legacy of C. J. Huff. After all, this is the same newspaper that gushed on its editorial page after Huff "retired" over the high quality of the administrative team Huff hired (none of whom are with the district two years later).
The Globe also make a brief mention in today's article of the amount of money received by Jane Doe. "(Harpool) had previously awarded $1 in damages to the plaintiff." While that is true, the article fails to mention that the $1 amount is what Jane Doe requested.
Considering the liberties that were taken in the reporting of the Victory Ministries lawsuit and nearly all of the stories surrounding the problems during C. J. Huff's final years, the newspaper's ignoring of a domestic violence call to the home of former City Manager Mark Rohr, its complete neglect in reporting easily documented problems with Wallace Bajjali and the Joplin Blasters, it makes you wonder why we should believe anything that is printed in the area's "paper of record."