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A New York teacher’s defamation suit against the principal and school district that suspended her for showing Roman Polanski’s R-rated version of “Macbeth” may go forward, the state Appellate Division, 3rd Department, panel has ruled. The panel reinstated the claim, reversing Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Ferradino’s decision to grant the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Schuylerville Junior/Senior High School teacher Linda Clark showed her 10th-grade English students a district-owned copy of the 1971 film of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. Clark, who has reportedly taught at the school for 18 years, had shown the film for 10 years prior to her suspension. Principal Thomas S. Martin approved the showing, but later notified the district superintendent and others that Clark had “exhibited the R-rated movie ‘Macbeth’ to her 10th grade class in violation of the [d]istrict’s policy and procedures,” Justice Thomas E. Mercure wrote in Clark v. Schuylerville Central School District, 98575. The school district — located in Schuylerville, N.Y., 35 miles north of Albany — suspended Clark, placing her on paid administrative leave. Martin sent a letter to the parents of Clark’s students informing them that she would “not be returning for the remainder of the 2003-2004 school year.” The district subsequently reinstated Clark when an investigation determined she had not violated district policy, she testified. The teacher initiated a claim against the school district and the principal, alleging among other things that the letter and Martin’s statement were defamatory. Ferradino granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the 3rd Department reversed last week. Although the panel agreed with the lower court that none of the statements in the letter could be deemed libelous, it reached a different conclusion regarding Martin’s assertion to the superintendent and others that Clark had violated district policy and procedures. “As plaintiff asserts, Martin’s accusation that [Clark] violated the district’s policy ‘has a precise meaning that is capable of being proven true or false,’” Mercure wrote, quoting Rabushka v. Marks, 229 AD2d 899. In fact, the plaintiff claimed that the statement had already been proved false. “Moreover, considering the context in which the statement was made, a reasonable listener would be likely to believe that Martin’s statement was factual inasmuch as he was uniquely knowledgeable about the district’s policy,” the panel concluded. Justices Anthony J. Carpinello, Robert S. Rose and Anthony T. Kane joined the unanimous decision. Jennifer M. Boll of Albany-based Tuczinski, Cavalier, Burstein & Collura represented Clark. Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Albany-based Girvin & Ferlazzo represented the defendants. Neither could be reached for comment. Martin is no longer the principal of the high school, where Clark continues to teach English, according to the Albany Times Union.

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