Parents file libel suit against school

Complaint accuses paper of publishing defamatory statements about family

CALIFORNIA -- A family filed a lawsuit against the Lompoc Unified School District for libel and invasion of privacy in March after a school newspaper published an article containing accusations of abuse and alcoholism within the family that they say are false.

Jerry and Barbara Reyes, parents of Cabrillo High School student Christina Reyes, sued the school district claiming that an article published in the student newspaper, Fore and Aft, contained untrue statements falsely attributed to Christina Reyes.

The March 2000 article, which discussed the effects of divorce on children, allegedly reported that 16-year-old Christina Reyes said her father was an alcoholic who physically abused her mother and sexually molested her sister. The article also cited Reyes claiming that her family lived in poverty because of her father's alcoholism.

According to Gerald Kroll, the Reyeses' attorney, the family denies all accusations and claims the story was printed without their permission and without asking other family members to reply to the allegations.

The Reyeses filed the lawsuit against the school district after the school refused to write a retraction of the comments. Kroll said the school told them that Christina Reyes made the comments and should therefore write the retraction herself.

"It's everybody's worst nightmare to have something like this said about you," Kroll said.

"It has caused tremendous trauma for the family, and in a small town like [Lompoc], it's really hard to undo damage like this to your reputation," Kroll added.

According to Kroll, journalism teacher Suzanne NiCastro, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, asked Reyes to participate in a class discussion about divorce in which students interviewed each other. It is unknown who interviewed Reyes, Kroll said.

Kroll also said Reyes was unaware that any part of the class discussion would be published in the newspaper.

According to the lawsuit, NiCastro claimed Reyes was absent on the day the students reviewed the comments for the newspaper, and the family was offered a chance to respond to the statements in the article in a letter to the editor.

NiCastro declined to comment on the case.

Earl Wammack, who handles all lawsuits filed against the school district and makes recommendations to the school board, did not return calls made to his office by the Report.

reports, Spring 2001