By Pat Lynch
THOUSAND OAKS, CA – Newbury Park High School (NPHS) journalism instructor, Michelle Saremi, filed a lawsuit against Conejo Valley Unified School District with the Ventura Superior Court on January 8, 2020. It is unclear if the District has been served with the complaint.
In her complaint, Saremi contends that since 2015 Board Trustees have been intent on harassing her as a result of an article her journalism class published, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” as the cover story in the NPHS Panther Prowler newspaper. The front page of the February 2015 magazine issue of the Panther Prowler featured a woman’s hand wrapped around a banana with a condom on it and a center-fold image of a man taking off a woman’s bra. The article discussed the sexual life of several high school students that were given aliases to protect their identities.
Saremi is suing for, among other things, special damages “in excess of 1 million dollars.”
The Panther Prowler issue caused uproar in the community for months as angry parents protested while student reporters argued they had a right to print any content and distribute it.
Most of the complaints in the lawsuit may be past the statute of limitations. It is unclear why she waited five years to file. Saremi’s attorney, Mary Haffner, served on the Ventura Unified School District Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2018.
The lawsuit mentions many individuals and organizations including Board Trustee Sandee Everett, former trustees Mike Dunn, John Andersen and Peggy Buckles, Superintendent Mark McLaughlin, Assistant Superintendent Victor Hayek, Executive Assistant Maria Neff, Former Superintendent Jeff Baarstad, NPHS Principal Steven Lepire, NPHS Vice Principal Krista Konish, Former NPHS Principal Joshua Eby, Craig Everett, Grant Brimhall, Michelle Brimhall, Tim Cooley, Joel Congeliiere, Chad Wright, Former United Association of Conejo Teachers President Randy Smith, Lucia Lemieux, Alisa Robakowski, Barbara Sponsler, “Elders at Everett’s Church,” the LDS Church and CTA Representative Jake Andersen.
One of the complaints in the lawsuit apparently relates to an official reprimand placed in Saremi’s file. Teacher reprimands are extremely rare, and the exact nature of Saremi’s reprimand is currently unknown. According to the lawsuit, “Ms. Saremi was assured by CVUSD administrators, former UCAT [sic] president Randy Smith, and CTA representative Jake Andersen that said reprimand letter had been removed from her personnel file by MCLAUGHLIN. Contrary to these assurances, the letter was not removed and still exists.”
Among dozens of other claims within the 90-page lawsuit, Saremi asserts her teaching credential was challenged in 2017 as part of ongoing harassment and retaliation against her. She claims that former City Manager and Thousand Oaks Library namesake, Grant Brimhall is Trustee Sandee Everett’s relative. She also asserts that “certain school board trustees,” “certain community members” and CVUSD leadership have created a hostile work environment for her that is causing “ongoing and persistent and chronic physical and mental injury…”
At numerous times throughout the lawsuit, Saremi claims to know what some of the above-mentioned individuals were thinking or what their intentions were.
Here is a link to the full text of the lawsuit: SAREMI COMPLAINT- CONFORMED
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.
Pat Lynch is a resident of Ventura County