FARMINGTON — Career Prep High School's former principal has filed a lawsuit against the Central Consolidated School District, stating she was illegally terminated in retaliation for speaking out about the possible closure of the alternative school.

On July 15, Joyce Rock filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school district, naming superintendent Don Levinski and director of elementary education Phil Kasper as defendants. Timothy White, an attorney with Valdez and White Law Firm in Albuquerque, filed the lawsuit on behalf of his client.

Joyce Rock, former Career Prep High School principal, is suing the Central Consolidated School District.
Joyce Rock, former Career Prep High School principal, is suing the Central Consolidated School District. (Courtesy of Joyce Rock)

The complaint states the defendants retaliated against Rock -- who was fired from her position as Career Prep principal at the end of the 2012-2013 school year -- for exercising her right of free speech. It also adds that the defendants violated Rock's constitutional rights by terminating her.

Rock is seeking monetary damages related to lost income, consequential damages, loss of retirement benefits and emotional distress.

CCSD spokesman James Preminger said the district has no comment on litigation or pending litigation.

Rock, in a telephone interview from her home near Muskogee, Okla., said she wants to make sure CCSD administrators are held accountable for their actions.

"I hate being in this situation, but the more I see how much CCSD has hurt so many people, I've never been treated like this before," Rock said. "I've never had something I worked so hard to build up, taken down so quickly. It truly breaks my heart."

After her contract was terminated, Rock was named the 2012-2013 secondary school principal of the year by the New Mexico Association of Secondary School Principals. During her tenure, graduation rates for Career Prep increased from 11 to 67 percent.

Rock's lawsuit details what happened after she spoke out in May against the possible closure of the high school. The former principal was placed on a "growth plan" on May 13, and then she was placed on leave on May 29, which lasted until the final day of her contract on June 12.

White said the growth plan contained several action items related to Rock's speech at a community meeting on May 8. It contained language such as "voicing her opposition to the superintendent's decisions outside the work place and work time," and "voicing her opposition to district direction within the confines of her office or her supervisor's office," according to the lawsuit.

At the meeting, Rock said Career Prep should remain open. CCSD administrators proposed closing the school to save money in the upcoming budget. The district nixed the idea after learning that the district was expected to receive additional federal funding.

The lawsuit says that Levinski told Rock on April 17 that she would be given a two-year contract renewal when her contract ended in June. The lawsuit also adds that Kasper told Rock on May 6 that the district planned to close Career Prep and make Rock the principal of a CCSD middle school.

White said he hopes that the school district learns it cannot do this to someone else.

"It's clear that the growth plan is, 'We don't like you speaking out about this,'" White said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.