Teacher Faces Second Trial on Manson Photos

     (CN) – A new jury will decide whether a high school history teacher is liable for showing his class gruesome photos connected to serial killer Charles Manson, a federal judge ruled.
     M. Young, as she is identified in court records, sued the Pleasant Valley School District and her former teacher, Bruce Smith Jr., in 2007, claiming that she suffered retaliation after complaining that Smith “showed photographs of naked murdered and dismembered females during his history class, as well as asked female students about what they were wearing during a pillow fight (i.e. panties), discussed push-up bras, and that he skipped college classes to ‘bang the cheerleader.'”
     The Brodheadsville, Pa.-based district ultimately suspended the popular history teacher without pay.
     Chief U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane noted last year that the highly publicized litigation brought “notoriety” and an “angry backlash” to Young, ultimately causing her to leave “her junior year of high school and the extracurricular activities she once enjoyed in favor of home schooling for the remainder of the school year.”
     Kane nevertheless found that a jury erred in ordering the district to pay Young $200,000, and ordered Smith to pay his former student $125,000.
     In her order for a new trial, Kane said the jury inconsistently found the district liable but let Principal John Gress off the hook.
     “The totality of the allegations, even viewed out of context and in a light most favorable to plaintiff, do not reasonably support a finding that the environment was ‘permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult,’ such that it changed the terms and conditions of plaintiff’s education,” Kane wrote. “The court is sensitive to the fact that this conduct did not take place among adults in a workplace, but by an adult to students in a public school classroom. However, at the same time, the court is wary of the chilling effect of subjecting legitimate – or even borderline – decisions regarding curriculum to routine federal judicial review. Twentieth century history is a subject that is fraught with complex, and at times uncomfortable, questions of race, religion, violence, and also sex and sexuality. It may be possible to teach the subject having purged the curriculum of issues which some students and their families find ‘inappropriate’ or inconsistent with their religious or moral beliefs, but the question presented here is not whether this court or the jury approves of the material in question, but whether the materials and comments about them rise to the level of a constitutional violation.”
     Last month, the district and Gress moved to exclude evidence, and Smith moved for judgment as a matter of law.
     U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann denied both motions last week, but permitted the defendants to file for partial summary judgment on M. Young’s claim against Smith.
     “This approach permits M. Young to bring to the court’s attention any admissible evidence against Smith that was withheld during the previous trial (as would have been her prerogative had defendants made a proper pre-verdict motion at trial), or that has been newly discovered, while at the same time appropriately channeling defendants’ arguments and giving due recognition to the principle that ‘courts’ resources are limited and they should not be required to use those resources to conduct an unnecessary trial,'” Brann wrote (parentheses in original).
     The trial is scheduled to begin July 22.

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