Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, March 13, 2024


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School’s Announcement of Pupil’s Expulsion Was Not Protected Speech, C.A. Declares


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A private school’s communication to another private school advising of its expulsion of an eighth-grade student for whom it previously provided a letter of recommendation is not a matter pf public concern, Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal held yesterday, affirming an order denying an anti-SLAPP motion.

The order was sought by St. Mary’s School, a Catholic school in Orange County’s Aliso Viejo. It was sued by the expelled student, “O.E.,” with his mother, Amber Ellingson, also a plaintiff as well as serving as O.E.’s guardian ad litem.

St. Mary’s said in an email to parents of other students:

“Yesterday afternoon the school administration was made aware of song lyrics, written by one of our students, that had been circulating through the 8th grade student body. The lyrics were incredibly difficult to read and referenced some of our students. The explicit lyrics referenced sexual assault, violence and racism. As soon as the school was made aware of the situation, this student was immediately removed from class and subsequently has been expelled from school.”

It disclosed the expulsion to others, including JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, to which it had previously sent a letter of recommendation concerning O.E. The boy had been accepted as a student there but, after learning of the expulsion, acceptance of his application was rescinded.

Causes of action against St. Mary’s included invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Justice Joanne Motoike authored yesterday’s unpublished opinion which affirms Orange Superior Court Judge Glenn R. Salter’s denial of a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16.  Causes of action based on the email to parents had been forfeited, Motoike said. Addressing the communication to JSerra (named after Saint Junípero Serra), she said the first prong of the statute—that the suit is based on an exercise of the right of speech or petition on a public issue—is not satisfied.

She wrote:

“O.E.’s expulsion was not an issue of public interest. O.E., a minor, was not in the public eye.  Admittedly, St. Mary’s other alleged disclosures to approximately 80 students, parents, and a community organization where O.E. volunteered may have brought more publicity to O.E.  But…O.E.’s expulsion did not affect the public beyond the direct participants:  it impacted only O.E., O.E.’s family and friends, some classmates and their parents, teachers, school administrators, and O.E.’s extracurricular activities.”

The jurist continued:

“St. Mary’s asserts its disclosure to the private high school implicated various issues of public interest, including school safety and school governance.  St. Mary’s may have believed its notification to the private high school served to protect those students identified in the rap lyrics who may later attend the private high school.  But its communication to the private high school did not signal any of these concerns….St. Mary’s informed the private high school of only the expulsion; no other details were provided.”

The case is O.E. v. St. Mary’s School, G062061.


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