The father who sued the Sequoia Union High School District for kicking his son out of a sophomore honors class for cheating has dropped a lawsuit challenging the punishment.
Jack Berghouse sought the suit's dismissal on Jan. 22, a month after the school district revealed in court documents that his son had cheated in his freshman year as well.
Berghouse sued the district on April 18, 2012, several weeks after his son was caught copying another student's homework for a Sequoia High School English honors class -- a fact that neither father nor son has disputed. The lawsuit alleged that the teenager's due process rights were violated and the school's rules about the consequences for cheating were vague.
Eight months ago, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge George Miram refused to allow Berghouse's son to temporarily re-enroll in the honors class, in part because "the plaintiff failed to establish the likelihood that he will prevail on the merits at trial." A trial on the lawsuit had been scheduled for April 8.
To support a motion to dismiss Berghouse's lawsuit, the district in December submitted papers indicating that his son in his freshman year was caught copying a Spanish assignment out of a teacher's edition of the class textbook that his parents had bought for him.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Berghouse confirmed that he and his wife had bought the textbook containing answers, but said the teacher rarely assigned those questions as homework so they just considered it as "another reference choice." Berghouse said the district didn't treat the incident as a serious offense after determining his son had not stolen the teacher's edition and only recently brought it up because of the lawsuit.
In a Dec. 18 court declaration, Sequoia High School Principal Bonnie Hansen says Assistant Principal Mike Kuliga had handled the freshman year incident and told her both the student and his parents "all expressed appropriate remorse."
According to the district, it has spent $15,418 on legal costs related to the Berghouse case, excluding staff time.
"The public should know how much it costs the district to defend itself against meritless cases," said John Shupe, the Burlingame-based attorney handling the case for the district.
Berghouse said several factors led to his decision to drop the suit, including the difficulty of proving that the penalty hurt his son's chances of getting into a good college.
"That's probably the main reason why we did it," Berghouse said. "We also determined how badly these guys wanted to crush us and win. It didn't seem to be in the cards for us."
Before the district sought to dismiss the suit in December, Berghouse's lawyer approached it and suggested a settlement, but wouldn't put the terms in writing as requested, Shupe said.
Berghouse said he had hoped to get the district to promise it wouldn't retaliate against his son or write negative letters of recommendation to colleges in exchange for dropping the suit, but the district rebuffed those offers. He added that there's been no evidence of any retribution and in fact his son's teachers have been "very fair with him" since April.
News of the lawsuit last year provoked a firestorm of criticism from readers who said Berghouse should have taught his son to accept responsibility for the consequences of cheating and that the son deserved the punishment.
Berghouse has maintained he would have accepted a lesser punishment but felt that kicking his son out of the English honors class was disproportionate to the offense and jeopardized his academic future.
"When people are driving 80 mph on I-80 they are not sentenced to life in prison," Berghouse said.