A former Canyon Country high school coach, whose selection of cheerleading captains once set off parent protests that included trumped-up allegations that she tried to seduce a teen-age boy, filed a damage claim against the school district this week, saying she was wrongfully dismissed.
Among the allegations made in the claim by former Canyon High cheerleading coach and English teacher Cynthia Wheat is that before she was let go at the end of the school year, Principal Bill White illegally asked her about her affiliation with the National Organization for Women.
The claim, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, also alleges that some school employees joined in the "slanderous accusations" against Wheat that she made sexual advances to a student, and that the district violated provisions of the new state Family Rights Act by stripping Wheat of her cheerleading duties because she was pregnant.
Private investigator Jan B. Tucker, a San Fernando Valley NOW board member who is working on the case, said Wheat's attorney had faxed the claim to the school district office Thursday.
School district officials would confirm only that Wheat, 28, is no longer a teacher at the school. Walter Swanson, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District, said he had not yet seen the claim, but "it's apparently a legal matter, so I would not be able to comment anyway."
The claim demands that Wheat be reinstated and paid more than $10,000 in damages. Her attorney, Stan Stern, said in a written statement that if those requests are denied she will sue the district.
Wheat, who came to the district in the fall of 1990 after teaching in Texas schools, was still a probationary employee when she received a dismissal notice this year. Her claim says she should have been allowed an administrative hearing before the dismissal became final in June. Tucker said Wheat requested such a hearing in writing but was denied one.
Tucker said Wheat returned to Texas a week ago and she could not be reached for comment on Friday. Linda Lambourne, Wheat's friend and the mother of a cheerleading captain, said Wheat is completing a doctorate in educational administration in Texas and plans to return to the Los Angeles area, where her husband is a psychologist.
Wheat's April, 1991, decision to appoint eight cheerleading captains for the following year without holding tryouts for the entire squad caused an uproar in Canyon Country that led to news stories nationwide. Wheat's car was vandalized, and the Canyon High vice principal received telephoned threats that "you or someone in your family will die" unless all current cheerleaders were allowed to try out for the head cheerleader positions.
After the school board backed Wheat's right to make the appointments--but required that tryouts be held for cheerleader captains in the future--a group of parents insinuated to school officials that Wheat had made sexual overtures to a male student, school officials said.
The student later denied the story to school officials but said a parent had tried to persuade him to complain about Wheat.
"The parents were just looking for any way to get her out, and if they couldn't get her out by cheerleading, they were going to look for any other ways," Paul Pedevilla, 17, said in a May, 1991, interview with The Times.
The claim filed this week alleges that school officials violated the state Education Code and the First Amendment guarantee of the right to engage in political activities.
"It's like a McCarthyite harassment," Tucker said. "I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would interrogate someone about whether or not they were involved in NOW."
Tucker said that, ironically, Wheat did not contact him until \o7 after \f7 she said she had been quizzed about her involvement with NOW. Other Valley NOW members remembered her subsequently coming to a meeting and asking if they could write letters in support of her request to be reinstated as a cheerleading coach.
The complaint also cited the state Family Rights Act, which became effective Jan. 1. It requires employers to allow employees up to four months of unpaid maternity leave and, on their return, to offer them the same or a comparable position at the same or similar pay.
The coaching position carried an $800 annual stipend, which Tucker said Wheat lost when she was stripped of those duties.