Charges against Pontotoc County district tossed

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – A federal judge has dismissed claims by Phyllis Harris and her son, Derek, against Pontotoc County School District and its superintendent, Ken Roye.
The Harrises sued the district and Roye in January 2009, insisting their rights were violated when Phyllis was terminated from her job and Derek was moved to classes in the alternative school after a series of incidents involving the district’s computer system.
Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr. permanently dismissed the lawsuit, saying their rights were not violated.
Derek was an eighth-grader at South Pontotoc Middle School when he got into trouble for hacking into the district system. His mother, the school’s secretary, complained about his “unfair treatment” and was moved to an assistant teacher position.
She protested the job change and was fired when she called Roye a “liar.”
In her lawsuit, Phyllis claims she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for her use of protected First Amendment speech. They also claimed Derek was denied due process and defamed.
Biggers rejected all of their allegations.
Specifically, Biggers said Derek’s transfer to alternative school for 45 days did not violate his right to a public education, and that his three-day suspension was not long enough to require a hearing.
As for the alleged defamation, the judge said the claim “is unsupported by the record.”
Responding to Phyllis Harris’ claims, the judge said her speech was not protected because it did not involve a matter of public concern, and that her dispute with Roye was personal.
She also was not terminated until she engaged “in clearly insubordinate behavior,” Biggers said.
The Harrises were represented by Walter Brent McBridge of Tupelo, and Berkley Huskison of Tupelo represented the school district and Roye.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.