Judge won't block teachers' transfer

August 09, 1997


Staff Writer

A federal judge on Friday denied a request for a preliminary injunction to block the transfers of two North Hagerstown High School teachers, saying a critical newsletter they helped publish has been a "source of disruption in the school."

Teachers Austin Gisriel and Kurt Britner had requested the preliminary injunction to block their involuntary transfers until the trial of a federal lawsuit they filed Aug. 1 in which they claim their rights were violated.

The suit claims they were transferred to stifle their criticism of the school administration and to punish them for the controversial newsletter they began publishing last fall.


School officials deny the claims and contend both transfers were legal and in the best interest of the school system, said Baltimore attorney Leslie Stellman, who is representing the Washington County Board of Education.

The teachers claim there would be no irreparable harm to the school system if they remained at North High, particularly because the board did not question their competence.

"This overlooks the defendants' argument that if Mr. Gisriel and Mr. Britner are permitted to remain at North High, the orderly administration of education will be jeopardized," U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake of Baltimore wrote in her ruling.

"There is also evidence that those opposed to the plaintiff's views have been a source of tension at the school," Blake wrote.

Blake also referred to case law that says "public education is recognized as one of the most important public services offered by state government."

Although the preliminary injuction was denied, the transfers remain uncertain, said Brett Wilson, an attorney for the teachers. Besides the federal lawsuit, the teachers have also appealed the transfers to the school board, whose decision is still pending, Wilson said.

The teachers' suit also seeks payment of their attorney fees and court costs.

Wilson said the request for a preliminary injunction was filed because he believes any violation of a constitutional right is an immediate harm and should not be allowed to proceed.

"The better choice is to block it," Wilson said.

Board of Education President B. Marie Byers declined to comment in detail on the ruling other than to say the board was "very pleased" with it.

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