A former Greenville Independent School District principal, who won a federal discrimination suit against the district’s former superintendent in 2005, has won an appeal of the decision.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict attained by Karen Jo Barrow and also upheld the awarding of attorney’s costs to Barrow’s legal team from the Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute, whose chief counsel Kelly Shackelford said the ruling announced Monday made it clear that parents have the right to choose their children’s upbringing.

“Our children are not the children of the state,” Shackelford said in a statement. “Every parent should, and does, have the God-given right to direct the upbringing and education of their own children. This is an important decision.”

The Liberty Legal Institute was awarded approximately $650,000 in attorneys costs and fees in December 2005.

At the conclusion of a two-week trial in March of that year, the jury in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater held former Greenville I.S.D. superintendent Dr. Herman Smith liable and awarded Barrow $15,000 in back pay as actual damages and awarded $20,000 in punitive damages.

In July of 1998, Barrow, then a teacher with the school district, applied for an opening for the assistant principal’s position at Greenville Middle School. Barrow’s children were enrolled at Greenville Christian School.

Barrow was allegedly told that under the district’s “patronage” policy, the school-age children of all principals and administrators were required to attend public school and that Barrow would not be considered for the opening unless she enrolled her children in public school.

Barrow and her husband refused and in 2000 filed suit in U.S. District Court against the district and Smith, claiming her rights under the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment — which gave her the right to enroll her children in a private school and to direct the upbringing of her children — had been violated.

School district officials repeatedly denied Barrow’s claims and she was later hired as the assistant principal at Greenville High School and then promoted to principal at the high school. She resigned from the district during this past summer.

“This sends a strong message to every superintendent and administrator in the country,” Shackelford said. “Blackmailing teachers to censure their children from private school is against the law, and if you do it, you’ll be personally liable.”

Barrow has said she will use the awarded damages to fund college scholarships for Greenville ISD and Greenville Christian School graduates who pursue education degrees.

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