Teacher Sues Claiming That Lack Of Special Ed Aide Prompted ‘Crying Spells’
ISELIN, N.J. — A former teacher in the South Orange-Maplewood school district has filed a lawsuit claiming she was forced to resign after a transfer to teach special education without an aide caused her to have “crying spells” in the classroom.
Sarah Barlow, 34, of West Orange, said in court papers she was teaching kindergarten at South Mountain Elementary School during the 2020-2021 school year when she was abruptly transferred to the district’s annex school to teach a different class.
“Barlow was asked to teach a classroom that included special education students, yet (she) was not provided any special education teachers or paraprofessionals to assist her,” according to the suit filed last month in Superior Court in Essex County.
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Prior to her transfer, Barlow had disagreements with school Principal Kevin Mason over the handling of two troubled students, according to the suit.
In 2021, the principal also grew to believe Barlow sent an anonymous letter to Superintendent Ronald Taylor accusing him of misconduct, the suit claims.
Mason, who is not named as a defendant, did not respond to a request for comment. Taylor said he cannot discuss the lawsuit because the district does not comment on personnel matters or litigation.
After the anonymous letter was received, Barlow was transferred to the South Mountain School Annex for the 2022-2023 school year and asked to teach a class that included special education students, the suit says.
Barlow complained several times that it was unlawful for the district to not assign her a special education aide, but the district did not take any action on her complaints, the lawsuit alleges.
“This situation caused Ms. Barlow a significant amount of emotional distress and exacerbated her anxiety, a condition she has suffered with since her teenage years,” the suit states.
On Oct. 24, Mason sent Barlow a letter “admonishing her for exhibiting signs of anxiety and stress in the classroom,” the suit said. Barlow alleges her symptoms were caused by not having an aide and by Mason’s alleged mistreatment.
“In this letter, Mason stated that Ms. Barlow’s ‘crying spells’ were unprofessional and stated that a corrective action plan would be forthcoming,” the suit says.
The lawsuit says Barlow’s therapist then placed her on a six-week medical leave “due to the stress and anxiety she was experiencing at work.”
“Unfortunately, due to the district’s failure to address her complaints of unlawful behavior and complete disregard for her disability and mental health, Ms. Barlow was forced to resign from her position on Nov. 1, 2022,” the suit states.
The lawsuit says Barlow’s anxiety, which required medical treatment, is a recognized disability under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
In addition, administrators in the South Orange-Maplewood School District failed to accommodate Barlow’s disability, disciplined her “for her symptoms,” and failed to include her in discussions about reasonable classroom accommodations, the suit says.
The suit also alleges the district violated New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act by retaliating against her and forcing her to resign.
“By virtue of the conduct of the (district), no reasonable person in plaintiff’s position could have continued employment,” the suit states.
Barlow is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, along with pay she would have received if she had not resigned.
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