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Teacher Wins Suit Against District

October 19, 2002|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court jury Friday ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District to pay $425,000 to a former Locke High School teacher who said her 1st Amendment rights were violated after she refused to allow her students to be searched for weapons.

Ami Motevalli, 32, who taught art under a one-year contract at the South-Central Los Angeles campus, charged that she was not rehired because she spoke out against random searches of students using hand-held metal detectors.

She was awarded $137,500 in lost wages and $287,500 for emotional stress.

The award in a Los Angeles courtroom proves that "the citizenry, as represented by the jury, will not stand for LAUSD hiding its incompetence," said her attorney, Dan Stormer. "It will award significant damages when they attempt to silence good teachers speaking out on behalf of students."

Harold Kwalwasser, general counsel for the district, said Motevalli's contract was not renewed because she endangered students by prohibiting such random searches. Those searches have been conducted daily for nine years in the district's middle and high schools.

"We're terribly disappointed with the jury verdict," he said.

Motevalli said she has mixed feelings about the verdict.

"It is tough to feel great, because the experience was actually really horrible," she said. "I'm not going to be able to return to that school. I am very sad for not having the opportunity to be with my students."

"When my students started to organize and speak up on issues, they were constantly hunted down [like] me," she said.

"The message that this sends is that their work ended up being so positive. At least now they see some justice out of it."

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