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Teacher Fired For Reporting IDEA Violations Can Sue, Court Rules

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A California educator who says she was fired for speaking out about the limited services provided to her special education students can sue for retaliation, an appeals court has ruled.

Susan Barker was a resource specialist in Riverside, Calif. in 2005 when she raised red flags about the limited services provided to students with disabilities in the school district. She made a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and says her superiors in the school district promptly began intimidating her.

Barker says her colleagues stopped communicating by phone and e-mail, excluded her from staff meetings, limited her responsibilities and changed her work location. As a result, she alleged in a lawsuit against the school district that she was “constructively terminated” in August 2006 because her employer “subjected her to an intolerable work environment.”

A lower court said that Barker lacked standing to sue because she does not have a disability and was claiming retaliation for advocating on behalf of her students under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On appeal, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said otherwise, asserting that educators do have the right to claim retaliation if they are acting on behalf of their students.

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. wendt123 says:

    Ms. Barker is to be commended for her courage!

  2. dlmgraham says:

    As a special education teacher, I feel it’s my duty to advocate for my students. I never even thought about being fired as a result. I hope this case receives national attention. I don’t know if others outside of education realize what is happening to some of our most helpless children. Susan Barker is a hero!

  3. twinkie1cat says:

    Congratulations for her guts. It is hard to lay your neck on the line but sometimes it must be done. If we are real special ed teachers we will advocate for our students no matter what. I got fired for advocacy too. A Program Assistant (assistant principal over special ed.) and other administrators wanted to exclude a terminally ill student from school because she was hard to look at. She was told she could not do that by the system lawyer. So she decided to re-evaluate the girl so she could stash her in Severe/Profound. I told her she had made a B on her midterm exam using hand signals (She had lost her ability to speak.) The next year I found myself in a perfectly horrible class at a level I don’t like to teach (middle school moderate). I transferred to severe/profound which I LOVE BEST, but I had wanted a change and went to Orthopedically Impaired. Two years later a principal who hated special education and white people got me fired for “insubordination”. It was really racism and advocacy.

    In another system I fed a parent the information she needed to get her child into extended year. Working through the parents is usually the best way to get things done if you can and need to keep your job. These folks were already getting rid of me because an incompetent, alternately certified so-called teacher was the principal’s pet and she did not like me. I had dared complain about this popular witch verbally abusing staff and students! But I got the child her summer services and cost that school system a bunch of money.

    We have always been the red headed stepchild of education. Our children don’t have anyone but us so we have to be good. That is why it is important for us to have special education degrees (preferably 2) and to always be perfectly ethical, above board, and to get our paperwork done right. The words a school SYSTEM hates the most are MEDIA and LAWSUIT. These usually have to come from the parents. But the words a persecuting principal or a Special Education Director with her hands and mind where they don’t belong are: IT’S IN HIS IEP. Remember that and be able to quote, or at least reference, IDEA and Section 504.

    Good girl Susan Barker. I give you the honor we gave in Atlanta to the best teachers in the day when we were family and did not have to bother as much with regular eds who thought are kids were stupid, our classes a dumping ground and us day care workers: YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO BE SPECIAL ED!

  4. landis789 says:

    To both Twinkleonecat and Susan- and probably many more like us that have lost their jobs for Advocating for our students. Administrators call us “trouble makers” I’ve yet to meet a Principal or Superintendent that has had classroom experience working with Special Needs children.

    I was just fired from a job that was offered and presented to me as something completely different than what the what it was. But, once you’ve signed the contract and taken your certificate there isn’t much we educators can do-

    I was presented with a class that was to be a self-contained classroom of mildly mentally delayed students. I was hired by a past Professor that I had when getting my master’s from National Louis University. After signing the contract, I was in training and found out that my classroom was changed to teaching 7th and 8th graders Math and Science only! Not only to I dislike math and science but I was not HQ to teach these two subjects over 50% of the day. In the middle of training I went up to the HR departments and questioned why my job description had been changed. I was told “the Principals have the right to do as they choose” if I didn’t like it I could resign- this was in August.

    My class was comprised of 3 MMI students, 4 ED students, and the rest were a combination of Speech and Language delayed, and Severe Learning Disabled. The Principal had taken my class and had me teach all the 8th graders science and math in the a.m from 8:20 a.m to 11:30 a.m straight through with 2 5 minute breaks.
    My afternoon consisted of six 7th graders resource, then math and science 12:10p.m till 2:10 then they were shifted over to the other self-contained teacher for SS then back to my class for science.

    Doesn’t sound so bad yet, but now I was to be the case -manager for 7th grade with 7 non compliant and illegal IEP’s. It took till the beginning of Nov before the 8th grade IEP’s were given to me. Those IEP’s were in better legal condition, but that was because that 8th grade Cross-Categorial teacher had “fixed” them on-line. It was a system called Easy IEP where anyone could and would get into the student’s IEP’s and change them –

    I had requested books to work with that were appropriate for Special Needs students according to FAPE. I was denied and told that I had to use the books that the rest of the school was using. Remember that I had 3 MMI students in with ED and SLD students. It was beyond frustrating. I insisted that I was not HQ to be teaching these students. I was pulled into HR and was made HQ by the years I had worked with severe ED students in various school settings, combined with the work I had done while getting my masters, in two State Juvenile facilities.

    In October I went to HR to report that my classroom was unsafe due to the combination of students in the classroom. I had an ED student take scissors to the neck of the MMI student’s neck and then threatened my assistants life. She walked out of class and did not return on Friday. I told HR everything and they turned to me and said ” what do you want us to do?’ ” You can quit” Attacks and verbal altercations continuted without support from the Principals.

    See, the bottom 2 floors of this school were comprised of basically white rich students and there was no middle class, the 3rd floor back in the corner rooms where the black poor section 8 students all in the cross-categorical program. They could barely write or read and the one that could didn’t know their math. Not one white student out of the entire school ? A middle school that ranked 15th in the state for ISAT scores. Things went from bad to worse I had no supplies, not even a box of tissues. I taught the morning 8th graders as best I could, but by the time the afternoon came I was spent and so were the 7th graders. They refused to do any work and somehow all their academics where in the afternoon.
    Any special educator know that the afternoon is the worst time to teach Special Needs Students all their academics.

    In November I got an email stating that I was getting a new student. I said” great can I see his IEP” the Principal said that there was no IEP- I then wrote that the law was least restrictive environment first. That stopped them from placing student into my classroom for a few days. This student was in all Regular Ed classes, not one staffing or IEP meeting was held to even place him in the most restrictive classroom.
    I called ISBE Illinois State Board of Education and spoke to a lady in compliance. She told me to write a report- I didn’t I took this student in and for 6 weeks he tore up my classroom.
    After Christmas break, he continued to do no work and just disrupted my class and the learning process that I had begun with my students before this student was placed into my room.

    Last week, a fight broke out between this student and two other students in the class. My assistant went home and I was given a woman that was terrified of working in my class. I knew that I had to get this student out of my room before the other two boys could hurt him. He wiggled out of my hold on his shoulders 3-4 times and of course the button to the office didn’t work when I pushed it about 10 times- I got this student about two feet from the door when I said ” Just get the F out of my room” he went and stayed where I put him. I had to turn around and access the situation of what the other two students where up to. It was horrible my assistant had run out to get help so the student was taken to the office and the others were left for me to de escalate.

    An hour later I was called down to the office and told that I was on Administration leave. My union had my back and said that I was fired with out cause. According to Illinois State law, and school law I had the right to place my hands on this child to stop him from hurting others. The real truth is that I had made the call to ISBE and Reported the fact the students where all African American, the fact that I was denied appropriate materials to teach with. I also reported the illegal IEP’s that some of the IEP’s had my students placed out in the mainstream for a class or two, but when I took the information to the LEA rep and the Principal they ignored my request. I sat through many IEP meetings, watched the parents walk out of the room without a copy of the IEP, not only were they not given the IEP but I watch the LEA rep change what was written on the IEP.

    NOW try and find someone to take this story, or a lawyer to help me – forget it- Special Education in DIstrict 65 Evanston, Illinois is a huge problem. After I was fired I found an article that was filed with the CIvil Rights Organization. It was in the newspapers but I never read before I took the job. The situation has not changed even after the suit was filed.
    Any ideas how to help me ? I’ve lost a knee to helping a Bi-polar child 6 years ago. I can’t get out of bed, or shower, or eat and am tired of fighting a system the is corrupt! They are fighting my unemployment, I’m disabled and at the end of my rope-

  5. Debbie MacFarlan says:

    It has taken me two years to find a litigator to help me sue for wrongful termination . I am the first in Illinois apparently to have blow my whistle loud against a District who I have got them: Educating all Africian Amercians with severe multiple disblities in one room, on the 3rd floor of a 100 year old building, double billing foe services not rendered such as social work, all illegal IEP’s , refused me proper teaching materials for a class room of 14 students , 6 severe Emotionally Disabled, 3 Speech and Language Delayed, 2 Severely Learning Disabled and then they put 3 Cognitively Disabled students in to the group! Oh I forgot to mention I was not endorsed to teach the two classes the forced me to teach , Math and Science. I had my job changed the first week of training which was in August . I had no idea but when I complained it just made things much worse. So , I on behalf of my students and myself I am suing this District . Funny thing I could not find one , not one Attorney to help me help my students . Very sad! What went down in my classroom in a very high profile neighborhood in Il will make you head spin. The ones who suffered were my students I truly believe if that had been given proper placement many of my students would not be in jail and one of my female student would be alive today. My case is filed in the US District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division case # 1:12-cv -01137 I have tried to aquire more support for my families who do not trust I am open to ideas and suggestions please.

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