Parent sues over ban by Grosse Pointe school district
A parent in the Grosse Pointe public schools is suing its superintendent and the district, alleging he has been banned from school property after criticizing school administrators who are trying to "bully me into silence."
Steve Saigh, a resident of Grosse Pointe Woods, filed a civil lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court on Tuesday against Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Gary Niehaus and the board of education.
Niehaus allegedly sent a letter in October forbidding Saigh from entering certain premises in the district, violating his civil rights, Saigh contends in the legal filing.
Saigh’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, said the letter accused his client of engaging in "a campaign of harassment and intimidation" of North High assistant principal Michelle Davis and principal Kate Murray.
"They have tarnished my name and reputation. This is a group that is desperately trying to bully me into silence," Saigh, a 45-year resident and father of three, told reporters during a Wednesday morning news conference at his attorney's office in Farmington Hills.
Saigh said the claims from Niehaus and "slanderous letter" are "all lies" and insisted "there must be consequences."
According to the lawsuit, Saigh denies any campaign and says his speech was nothing more than "critical comment of certain administrative practices and procedures" in the district.
The lawsuit alleges that Niehaus claims Saigh was seen carrying a concealed pistol at North High in 2017, but Niehaus could not identify anyone who was a witness and there was "no indication" a police report was filed.
It also alleges Niehaus suggested staff at North obtain a personal protection order against Saigh, and that Saigh's emails to the district would be blocked.
Saigh's son is scheduled to attend North High School this fall and the ban is preventing Saigh from attending a Jan. 15 open house at the school.
Schwartz on Wednesday said he filed a motion for an injunction in an attempt overturn that ban. The case is being handled by Wayne County Circuit Judge Craig Strong.
The district has not seen the lawsuit and could not comment, Niehaus said in a Wednesday statement.
"However, without commenting on the allegations of the lawsuit, any actions we have taken with respect to Mr. Saigh have been designed to protect the safety of our students and staff," Niehaus said. "Our letter banning Mr. Saigh contained a procedure allowing him to contact me as the superintendent if he wished to attend a specific event — such as the open house next week."
Schwartz said that he and Saigh met with the superintendent and Niehaus's attorney in November to negotiate rescinding the "improper banishment," but the efforts were unsuccessful.
Schwartz told reporters that he will be reaching out to Niehaus and his legal counsel to see if "major litigation" can be avoided and "perhaps we can have this put into the past."
"You can't just go out and ban somebody because you don't happen to like what they say about you, and that's really what this is all about," Schwartz said. "It's an absolute, flat-out violation of my client's civil rights and it's not something that should happen."
The lawsuit alleges Niehaus and the district are denying Saigh his constitutional rights by banning him from access to public school property.
In the letter, Niehaus wrote if Saigh went against the restrictions imposed, it would be regarded as trespassing and authorities would be contacted.
Niehaus also states in the October letter that Saigh is allowed at Parcells Middle School in connection with his child's education, at open meetings of the school board or other district-related public bodies and with Niehaus's written permission.
Saigh, who works in the ads office of the Grosse Pointe News, said Wednesday that he has two older daughters who attended North and that there were no past issues with the administration. He added that he does not have a history or past convictions for assault.
Saigh, 53, acknowledged he'd exchanged at least a couple hundred emails with district officials, including the school principal and assistant principal in the last 16 months, but "I never sat down and counted."
"They might not like the way I write my emails, they might be colorful," he said. "I have nothing to hide. There's never been any threats."
According to an email Niehaus sent the board informing them of Saigh's ban, Niehaus said Saigh sent 679 emails to Davis, Murray and himself over two years.
Cindy Pangborn, a trustee of the Grosse Pointe Public School System board, attended Saigh's news conference as an observer, not a representative of the board, she said.
"That it has been allowed to come to this level is very disturbing to me," said Pangborn, who has been critical of the administration. "Something of this matter should have been brought to the board's attention and discussed."
Board treasurer Judy Gafa said on Wednesday that she supports Murray, calling her a "stellar administrator."
"We as a district do have a harassment and anti-bullying program, it should be followed and our staff has the right to feel safe in their work environment ," Gafa said.