Charter superintendent’s defamation case nears settlement

Heritage Academy Superintendent Christine Ivie’s defamation lawsuit against the Idaho Public Charter School Commission may have reached a settlement after more than four years.

“There’s no paperwork yet but it is my understanding there is one,” according to Traci Brandebourg, clerk for Jerome County district court.

The court held a status hearing in Jerome Monday afternoon. If the settlement documents are not received within 30 days, it will schedule another hearing while negotiations continue, she said.

Last month, Bren Mollerup, special deputy attorney general, said, “There is a settlement and close to resolution,” according to a court document obtained by Idaho Education News. Mollerup is counsel for the charter commission.

A jury trial was set to begin this month but was vacated. The scheduled depositions of Jenn Thompson, Brian Scigliano, Debbie Critchfield and Matt Freeman were also vacated. Thompson is the commission’s former director, Critchfield is superintendent of education, Freeman is State Board of Education executive director and Scigliano is a former charter commissioner.

Ivie filed a $500,000 defamation claim in 2019 but EdNews was unable to confirm if she will receive any compensation as part of the settlement. Ivie did not return calls Tuesday. 

Ivie was hired as the superintendent at Mackay School District in June 2023, a role she held while continuing to lead Heritage Academy. But Ivie resigned from Mackay School District at the end of January, and former Mackay Superintendent Susan Buescher came out of retirement to take over again. It is unclear why she left the school district. 

The defendants in the defamation case are listed as the charter commission, Alan Reed, Nils Peterson and Kirsten Pochop. Reed is the current commission chairman but Peterson no longer serves on the commission and Pochop is no longer a program manager.

The following list is a short timeline of the events leading up to Ivie’s civil lawsuit.

  • April, 2019: the commission held a closed-door executive session.
  • June, 2019:  two-hour recording of the executive session was accidentally released to the public.
  • July, 2019: attorney general’s office said it would pursue an open meeting complaint.
  • July, 2019: the commission admitted to the violations.
  • Sept, 2019: Ivie files tort claim with Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

Leaked audio of the 2019 meeting revealed insensitive and offensive comments directed at Ivie, Heritage Academy and the city of Jerome, according to court documents. 

Ivie’s lawsuit alleges members of the charter commission defamed the administrator, causing damage to her professional reputation and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

During the closed-door meeting, commissioners signaled out test scores at Heritage, expressed regret that the school remained open and suggested Ivie applauded low test scores, because her school would qualify for increased funding.

The lawsuit alleges that these “derogatory, untrue, defamatory statements” about Ivie were made with malice, meaning they were intended to harm the long-time administrator.

Idaho Ed News reporter Carly Flandro contributed to this article.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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