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School officials defend decision to demote former principal

By Joe Beck

Warren County school officials are denying that former Ressie Jeffries Elementary School principal Antoinette Funk has any legal basis or facts to support the lawsuit she filed against them for breach of contract and defamation.

The officials replied to the suit in a demurrer filed Monday in Warren County Circuit Court by their attorney, Annemarie DiNardo Cleary of Richmond. The demurrer asks that the suit be dismissed and that costs and expenses associated with the suit be awarded to the defendants.

DiNardo Cleary argued in her filing that Funk has failed to show why she is entitled to the $387,539 in damages she is seeking from the five members of the Warren County Public Schools Board and Superintendent Pamela McInnis.

Funk, who is teaching fifth grade in Berkeley County, W.Va., resigned from Warren County Public Schools on July 31 after learning in the middle of May that she had been demoted to sixth grade English teacher at Warren County Middle School.

Her suit contends that she suffered "embarrassment and humiliation" after McInnis placed her on administrative leave with pay from Ressie Jeffries, where she was principal from July 2010 through March 9, 2012.

The demurrer denies Funk's claims that the defendants breached their contract with her by failing to follow rules for evaluating and disciplining school system principals.

DiNardo Cleary's filing states the board had the right to demote Funk to a teaching position "as long as it gave plaintiff timely notice of the reassignment and provided plaintiff with the opportunity to present her position at an informal meeting" with the superintendent, someone designated by the superintendent or the board.

DiNardo Clearly contends that Funk's own complaint leaves no doubt she received enough advance notice "and that she was given an opportunity to meet informally with the school board and did so meet."

The demurrer also denies Funk's accusation that McInnis and the board defamed her.

Funk's complaint states that a letter McInnis sent on March 26 informing Ressie Jeffries parents that Funk was "on leave" led to speculation that she was seriously ill, facing a family crisis or accused of a crime or school violation.

"A thorough review of the complaint reveals that plaintiff has not set forth the exact words by which she claims to have been defamed any of the defendants," DiNardo Cleary wrote.

DiNardo Cleary referred to newspaper stories describing Funk's "abrupt and mysterious" removal as principal to support her contention that no defamation had been committed.

"Arguably, plaintiff's removal as principal was 'mysterious' only because statements concerning the reasons why she was removed were not made public by the superintendent" or other school officials, according to the demurrer.

In an interview Wednesday, DiNardo Cleary said she is "hopeful" a judge will agree to dismiss the suit.

"I think we've said all we could for the time being," she said. "I couldn't comment further until I talk to the school board first."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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