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Teachers drop federal suit

March 10, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

Teachers drop federal suit

Two former North Hagerstown High School teachers who filed suit alleging the Washington County Board of Education had violated their constitutional rights have dropped the case, their attorney said.

One of the teachers, Kurt Britner, said on Monday that a lack of money was the reason the suit was dropped.

He and Austin Gisriel had alleged in the federal suit that they were transferred to other teaching jobs to stifle their criticism of the North High administration and to punish them for a controversial newsletter they began publishing in the fall of 1996.

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The teachers had spent about $2,000 on the suit, and the cost of taking it through U.S. District Court in Baltimore would have been "staggering," said their attorney Brett R. Wilson.

Gisriel, who has been transferred to Smithsburg High School, and Britner, who has been transferred to the Alternative School, asked the court to protect their jobs at North High and to order a $1 nominal damages award.

The teachers had asked for a preliminary injunction in federal court to block the transfers until the trial.

But U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake denied the request for the injunction, saying the newsletter the teachers published had been a "source of disruption in the school."

The teachers had unsuccessfully appealed the transfers to the Washington County Board of Education and the state Board of Education.

"It's hard to have the door slammed on your head several times over," said Wilson.

Wilson said he believes the case caused people to take a closer look at the school system. One of the issues Gisriel and Britner wrote about in their North High News and Views newsletter was how special education was being handled in schools, Wilson said.

A number of parents and other people, such as Del. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George's, began complaining last year that students with attention deficit disorder were not getting the help they needed.

Robert L. Kline, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said he had "no reaction whatsoever" to the lawsuit.

"They're still two good teachers," said Kline, referring to Britner and Gisriel.

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