Student’s family files libel suit against school district over newspaper article

CALIFORNIA — The parents of a high school student aresuing the Lompoc Unified School District for libel and invasionof privacy, claiming that an article published in the school newspapercontained false accusations of alcoholism and abuse within thefamily.

Sixteen-year-old Cabrillo High School student Christina Reyesand her parents sued the school district after an article aboutdivorce that was published in the March 2000 issue of the studentnewspaper allegedly reported that Reyes said her father physicallyabused her mother and molested her sister.

Reyes’ parents filed a lawsuit against the school districton March 1 contending that these statements were untrue and werefalsely attributed to Reyes.

"It’s everyone’s worst nightmare to have things like thissaid about you," said Gerald Kroll, the Reyeses’ attorney.

Reyes and her family wrote letters to the school newspaperdemanding a retraction after the article was published. The familysued the school district after the newspaper refused to publisha retraction. Kroll said the paper argued that Reyes should writethe retraction because she made the statements.

"My clients have been put into a situation that is extremelyhard to undo," Kroll said. "The community is very small.A school newspaper like that is a very powerful force in the community.It is likely that your neighbors, your friends and your co-workerswould learn of these allegations."

He added, "It has caused tremendous trauma for the family,and it’s really hard to undo damage like this to your reputation."

According to Kroll, journalism teacher Suzanne Nicastro askedReyes to participate in a class discussion about divorce in whichstudents interviewed each other. He said an unknown student wrotedown the accusations and attributed them to Reyes.

According to the Reyeses’ complaint, Nicastro claimed thatReyes was absent the day the statements were reviewed. In addition,the complaint said Nicastro claimed to have offered the Reyesesthe opportunity to respond to the accusations in a letter to theeditor.

Nicastro declined to comment on the case, referring all questionsto school district business manager Earl Wammack.

Wammack, who handles all lawsuits filed against the schooldistrict and makes recommendations to the school board, also declinedto comment on the case. Wammack’s assistant said he has not yetreceived a copy of the complaint and will not comment on it untilafter he has read it.