Parents sue school officials for defamation, alleging guidance counselor falsely completed recommendation form

According to Courthouse News Service, the parents of a graduated high school student have filed a suit against Rockwood School District (RSD), a guidance counselor and the principal alleging defamation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, after their daughter’s college scholarship was rescinded because of an allegedly false and defamatory recommendation letter sent by her high school guidance department.

Shannon McCoy, a Missouri state champion swimmer, had a 3.0 grade point average and received numerous athletic awards. She was also a four-time winner of a school board award for achieving the “highest standards of excellence that embody the Rockwood spirit,” according to her parents.  Yet, despite these accolades, the recommendation form that guidance counselor Beth Brasel sent to Colorado State said that Shannon was “below average” in five critical personality traits: Initiative, Character, Integrity, Leadership, and Community Service.

According to the complaint, the counseling department “conspired to deprive Shannon McCoy of her scholarship to Colorado State University by falsely completing a derogatory and inaccurate Recommendation Form…” The parents claim that Brasel stated that she had known Shannon for a year but that really she had never met Shannon until after the recommendation form had been submitted.

Colorado State rescinded its scholarship offer after receiving the form, leaving Shannon with no collegiate swimming opportunities for the 2009 season, the complaint states. Colorado State has since reconsidered and has accepted Shannon on scholarship but the McCoys are still suing the school district, principal, and guidance counselor for compensatory and punitive damages caused by the ordeal.

Source: Courthouse News Service, 7/7/10, By Joe Harris

[Editor's Note: The complaint indicates that, as a direct result of receiving the recommendation form, the Colorado State University admissions office declined to admit Shannon to the university, leaving her without any other viable options for receiving a college scholarship to a four-year institution.  A link to the complaint is available below.  In 2003, the Wisconsin Supreme Court applied governmental immunity to a guidance counselor sued by a student to whom the counselor had provided inaccurate information regarding student athlete scholarship eligibility requirements, causing the student to lose a four-year university scholarship. Scott v. Savers Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 663 N.W.2d 715 (Wis. 2003).  Before Scott, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized a cause of action for educational malpractice by a student against a guidance counselor based on the counselor's negligent representation that a course would satisfy the National Collegiate Athletic Association's core course requirements for eligibility.  As a result of the counselor's mistake, the student was ineligible, and his athletic scholarship was revoked.  The court concluded that a school district can be held liable for educational malpractice just as an attorney can be liable for legal malpractice. Sain v. Cedar Rapids Comm. Sch. Dist., 626 N.W.2d 115 (Iowa 2001).]

Legal Complaint

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