published Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Ooltewah cheerleaders' lawsuit dismissed

  • photo
    U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Three girls kicked off Ooltewah High School's cheerleading squad last fall for underage drinking were not deprived of their constitutional rights or victims of sex discrimination, a federal court judge ruled Monday.

In a 25-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice dismissed a lawsuit filed by the girls' parents against the Hamilton County Department of Education, Ooltewah Principal Mark Bean and cheerleading coach Kelly Peterson in December.

Parents JoDee Crumley, Tommy and Jennifer Smith, and Valerie and Todd Jones -- who were represented by attorney Curtis Bowe -- accused the school of trying to interfere with the girls' private lives, of an unlawful discipline process and for punishing the girls for misdeeds male athletes in the system had never been punished for.

The attorneys involved in the case did not return calls for comment Monday evening, and attempts to reach the former cheerleaders' parents were unsuccessful.

According to court records, the teen girls, referred to as "B.P.," "H.S." and "K.J.," had attended a Halloween party last October where there was underage drinking. Afterward, the girls were riding in a car with a group when police pulled it over and arrested two other cheerleaders for underage drinking.

Though B.P., H.S. and K.J. were not charged with underage drinking, they were later approached by Peterson and Bean and questioned about the incident. The girls admitted to drinking at the party and were then kicked off the team, according to court documents.

In their complaint, the girls' parents said the principal and the coach violated the girls' First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association by trying to punish them for going to the party and dressing in racy costumes.

"Conspiratorial conduct, sanctioned by [the Department of Education] was designed to squash that free speech and bring student-athletes and students at OHS into line through fear of reprisal," the complaint stated.

But Bean and Peterson, who were represented by attorneys Scott Bennett and James Exum, maintained that they were following school policy and a specially crafted "constitution" for the cheerleading team, which states that anyone caught drinking will be punished to the point of being kicked off the squad.

In his ruling, Mattice asserted the girls were punished because "they admitted to underage drinking -- not because they were at the Halloween party, or because they were wearing particular costumes."

In the sex discrimination allegations, the girls cited a situation at Signal Mountain Middle High School in which male members of the football team were caught drinking underage and not punished.

But Mattice said the comparison to the Signal Mountain football players had "no bearing" on Bean and Peterson's choice to follow set disciplinary measures at Ooltewah.

Lastly, the girls claimed their constitutional rights of due process were violated because of the chain of events that led from their questioning to their dismissal from the team.

But Mattice ruled with the defendants, who contended that "there is no constitutional right to participate in high school athletics and, therefore, no hearing prior to dismissal from an athletic team is required."

Contact Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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ABCDEFG said...

DOES ANYONE KNOW THE TRUE STORY? THE TRUTH WAS NOT REFLECTED IN THIS ARTICLE. 7 CHEERLEADERS WENT TO THIS PARTY ALONG WITH APPROX 25 OTHER OHS STUDENTS. 2 CHEERLEADERS LEFT WITH OTHER PEOPLE AND WERE LATER CHARGED W/DUA. THE 2 THAT WERE ARRESTED TOOK THIER PUNISHMENT. PETERSON KNEW SHE COULDNT COMPETE WITHOUT THEM SO SHE WAS DETERMINED TO KICK OFF OTHERS SO SHE COULD GET OUT OF COMPETITION.... MRS PETERSON ALLOWED CHEER-LEADERS WHO WERE IN UNIFORM PARTICIPATING IN A FUND RAISER AND GOT CAUGHT SHOP-LIFTING ON TAPE REMAIN ON HER SQUAD. SHE HAS ALSO BEEN AWARE OF PAST MIS-CONDUCT AND DID NOTHING....SO YEA HATS OFF TO THE CHEER COACH...MR BEAN WAS MANIPULATED BY MRS PETERSON. SHE LIED UNDER OATH SO IM SURE SHE HAD NO PROBLEM LYING TO MR BEAN

August 2, 2011 at 3:05 p.m.
sage1 said...

Hmmm....So. Since others have mis-behaved and broken school rules and gotten away with it makes it ok for these cheerleaders to do the same? I don't think so. This is the exact reason many of today’s teenagers think they should be allowed to do anything they want. Parents of children that get in trouble lawyer up and try to get them out of it rather than teach them there ARE consequences for their actions. AMAZING!!!

August 2, 2011 at 3:24 p.m.
dao1980 said...

Hey there alphabet, do you know what comes after G?

I'll bet you think is a good excuse, and not the letter H.

August 2, 2011 at 3:30 p.m.
ABCDEFG said...

Hmmm....same cheer-squad, same year...the 2 that actually got a DUA took thier punishment and did not fight it. The others were only accused by Peterson...That is why they fought it. It was only a couple of months prior to this that she allowed cheerleaders remain on her squad after being caught on tape shop-lifting at publix in Ooltewah....so what message is that to "today's teen-agers?"

August 2, 2011 at 3:49 p.m.
hedgehog said...

Being familiar with this situation, the issue for me was not that anybody should have gotten away with anything. The 7 girls in question certainly did not. The issue is that punishment for breaking the rules was not uniformly applied and yes some students did "get away with something". Rules should apply to all offenders.

August 2, 2011 at 4 p.m.
ABCDEFG said...

Thank you-hedgehog-that is the point i am trying to get across. The article facts are not correct. Why would people post nasty comments about teen-age girls that they do not even know? Because if they knew the facts and the girls who actually took it to court,They would be on their side. The 2 that acually got into trouble took their punishment. Are we suppose to believe Peterson just because she is a teacher?? She is capable of lying also. The girls who went to court could have proved their story if given the opportunity. The same girls listened as she lied under oath.

August 2, 2011 at 4:46 p.m.
rolando said...

Actually, alpha, I do believe a teacher over a student with a dog in the fight. Every time. Teachers are adults and responsible for their actions...students aren't. It is that simple.

So lawyer up and teach the kids how to sue their way out of trouble they caused. Good life lessons, there.

So you couldn't find a activist judge, huh? By the way, where did you get your side of the story? From the girl[s]? Oh, my.

August 2, 2011 at 5:26 p.m.
ABCDEFG said...

rolando...you are an inconsiderate dolt who judges the content of a person's character by only getting one side of the story or reading an article. AGAIN I WILL SAY IT..THERE WERE 7 GIRLS THAT ATTENDED THIS PARTY..THE 2 WHO LEFT AND GOT INTO TROUBLE LATER ACCEPTED THEIR PUNISHMENT...1 DID NOT RECIEVE ANY PUNISHMENT AT ALL? WHY? (MONEY) THE FOUR REMAINING WERE FASELY ACCUSED.. THE OTHER STUDENTS (APPROX-25) THAT ATTENDED THE PARTY WERE NEVER QUESTIONED

August 3, 2011 at 8:07 a.m.
rolando said...

Alpha --

First, why are you shouting?

Second, I repeat, where are you getting your information, especially since the "other students" weren't questioned.

Third, why are you accepting what the "students" are saying as gospel, yet accuse the teacher of lying under oath [a potentially felonious act]?

Finally, I did read the articles. So cite your sources of "The Rest Of The Story" [tip of the hat to Paul Harvey]. Hearsay and "urban legend" type info doesn't count.

In conclusion, do you quote everything out of context? You must be the mother of one or more of the girls, huh?

August 3, 2011 at 8:46 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

I agree with rolando (gasp) If the school's policies were unevenly or incorrectly applied, a lawsuit is not the way to resolve it. Their claim: accused the school of trying to interfere with the girls' private lives doesn't hold water. Schools may place expectations on kids behavior when they participate in certain activities, and their privileges may be lost if the school feels they behaved in ways that reflect poorly on the school or put themselves and others at risk. On the other hand, if football players are not held to the same standards, or other girls did not suffer the same penalty for the same offense, they should be bringing this up to the governing board. But a lawsuit? Please. This sends a multiple of poor messages to their kids and other kids.

I know I said I was going to take a hiatus, but my being on the same side with rolando was an opportunity I could not pass up!

August 3, 2011 at 8:59 a.m.
Nylawyer said...

The attorney representing the parents of the girls must have known that this was a highly plausible outcome as things were being stretched a little too far. The school has the right to decide who stays on the team based on its judgment, and as long as it isn’t being discriminatory, it is right to kick the girls off.

Harold - http://www.nylawyer.net

April 2, 2012 at 3:13 a.m.
nickfortuna said...

Often, we hear stories of the law being broken and unfair to victims. In this case, I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn that the justice system worked and that the cheerleaders were quite fairly punished. It is quite simple actually, teenagers break some rules, they should get punished accordingly. It doesn't matter how rich your parents are, or what lawyers they can afford to hire, when you break a rule, you pay the price.

Nicholas - http://www.lawyers.com/New-York/New-York/Allyn-and-Fortuna-LLP-444391-f.html

April 19, 2012 at 11:56 p.m.
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