Parents file libel suit against school

CALIFORNIA — A family filed a lawsuit against the Lompoc UnifiedSchool District for libel and invasion of privacy in March after a schoolnewspaper published an article containing accusations of abuse and alcoholismwithin the family that they say are false.

Jerry and Barbara Reyes, parents of Cabrillo High School student ChristinaReyes, sued the school district claiming that an article published in thestudent newspaper, Fore and Aft, contained untrue statements falselyattributed 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 wasan alcoholic who physically abused her mother and sexually molested hersister. The article also cited Reyes claiming that her family lived inpoverty because of her father’s alcoholism.

According to Gerald Kroll, the Reyeses’ attorney, the family deniesall accusations and claims the story was printed without their permissionand without asking other family members to reply to the allegations.

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

“It’s everybody’s worst nightmare to have something like this said aboutyou,” Kroll said.

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

According to Kroll, journalism teacher Suzanne NiCastro, who is alsonamed as a defendant in the lawsuit, asked Reyes to participate in a classdiscussion about divorce in which students interviewed each other. It isunknown who interviewed Reyes, Kroll said.

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

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

NiCastro declined to comment on the case.

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