Education

Court hearing postponed in Central tree-cutting case

5:58 p.m.: Cary Catalano, a spokesman for Central Unified School District, said late Thursday afternoon that there would be no additional statement by the district.

An appeal notice filed this week by Central Unified has postponed the court case.

Central Unified is appealing a decision issued Monday from Fresno County Superior Court Judge Adolfo Corona that ordered the district to put its transfer decision on hold pending the outcome of the lawsuit. In his order, Corona wrote that the school district "is not likely to prevail."

School district officials and their lawyers, said the appeal notice filed Tuesday morning suspends Corona's order. They said they will seek relief from the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

Attorney Laura Guzman Magill, who represents the five students with her husband Charles Magill, said she was surprised the case was taken off the Fresno County Superior Court calendar on Thursday. "It was taken off because the judge said he no longer has jurisdiction over the case," she said.

Guzman Magill said she had filed an opposition to his ruling and will also seek relief in the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

A clerk for the Fifth District Court, where the case is expected to land, said paperwork on the case was not yet on file and no hearing date has been set.


3:35 p.m.: A court hearing scheduled today in the case of five students who were kicked out of Central High School for cutting down two nearly 20-foot shade trees was pulled from the Fresno County Superior Court calendar this morning.

Central Unified School District officials are expected to issue a statement on the case this afternoon. Lawyers for the families could not be reached for comment.

The district calls the cutting of the two trees in the quad area of Central High School East Campus last month a case of "significant vandalism," with damage estimated between $7,500 and $14,000. But the students have described it as a "senior prank" meant to deprive their junior classmates of shade. The families sued the district after they disagreed over the method of punishment. They said they agree the students should be disciplined and offered to pay restitution.

The students used a saw to cut down the trees in the quad area in the center of Central High's East Campus the night of Feb. 4. They were suspended for a week and later transferred to the district's alternative school to finish the year.

The students are all seniors and football players. They are: Stephen Morales, Ricardo Avila and Kyle Chavez, all 17, and Dustin Jackson and Nathan Delsid, both 18.

Still undecided is whether the five will be able to walk with their classmates at Central High's graduation ceremony.


Mediation efforts stalled Wednesday in the dispute between Central Unified School District and the families of five students who were kicked out of Central High School for cutting down two mature shade trees.

The parents will now ask a judge today to punish school officials for preventing their sons from returning to class.

The district suggested Wednesday's mediation meeting to help settle a dispute over discipline of the five male students. The parents hired lawyers and filed a lawsuit after the students were kicked out of Central High School and transferred to the district's alternative education school.

The families believe the punishment is too severe, describing the incident as a "senior prank." The district calls the cutting of the two trees in the quad area of Central High School East Campus last month a case of "significant vandalism," with damage estimated between $7,500 and $14,000.

Charles Magill, one of the attorneys representing the students, said the two sides couldn't agree to conditions for a meeting Wednesday.

Central Unified's attorney, Kristen Kuitu, said she is optimistic a meeting will take place as soon as terms are met. "Both parties are working toward mediation," she said.

Magill said the district wants to use a mediator from San Joaquin College of Law but the families prefer Fresno Pacific University's mediation program. Magill said the families also wanted the students back at Central High on Wednesday, but the district refused.

The students used a saw to cut down the trees in the quad area in the center of Central High's East Campus the night of Feb. 4. They were suspended for a week and later transferred to the district's alternative school to finish the year.

The students are all seniors and football players. They are: Stephen Morales, Ricardo Avila and Kyle Chavez, all 17, and Dustin Jackson and Nathan Delsid, both 18.

Still undecided is whether the five will be able to walk with their classmates at Central High's graduation ceremony.

A key sticking point is whether the students have the legal right to be back in class. A judge Monday ruled in favor of the students returning to school. But the district filed an appeal notice that it says puts the judge's order on hold.

When the students tried to re-enter Central High on Tuesday and were refused by school officials, their lawyers called police. Three of the students were also turned away Wednesday.

A contempt of court hearing on the case is scheduled today in Fresno County Superior Court.

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