Special Education Teacher Retaliated Against for Defending Students-State Runs up Big Bills to Keep Teacher Out of Classroom

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    Laura Brown Image An Oahu special education teacher suffered retaliation and eventual dismissal due to his reporting to Department of Education district administration two separate incidents involving the treatment of special education students in an elementary school. The first incident 3 years ago involved a principal manhandling and shoving an elementary student suffering from childhood psychosis and other learning disabilities. The second incident involved the teacher informing parents of their children’s right to have access to the general curriculum while receiving remedial education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As a probationary teacher, Mr. John Doe — whose real name is omitted due to a pending federal civil suit against a principal, naively believed that by reporting the incident to a district level administrator, the principal would be disciplined. Instead, the district closed ranks behind the principal to assist in retaliation against the teacher. Although retaliation began as pressure and direct interference in the teacher’s work, a second principal escalated the harassment to culminate in unwarranted discipline. Seeking relief, Mr. Doe submitted a complaint to the DOE Office of Complaints and Resolution. This office of the DOE failed to investigate all charges. Letters to ex-Superintendent Paul LeMahieu, Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto, Special Education Director Deborah Farmer as well as the district superintendent were returned with refusal to investigate the matter. The teacher then sought assistance from the state Ombudsman and was told by that office that they did not have enough knowledge of the law and to return to the DOE Office of Complaints and Resolution. No independent investigator was assigned to the case by the DOE as required by federal law. The teacher testified at the Board of Education several times and filed a complaint with a federal agency. In February 2001, Mr. Doe was put on administrative leave. The investigation took over 14 months. The teacher remained on payroll, but was not allowed to teach, with the DOE “forgetting” to renew his contract or assign him to a school. He was finally terminated due to the principal stating that 4 people had filed complaints against him. When Mr. Doe contacted these individuals by phone, they said they had never made any complaints. The principal denied the teacher his right to due process when he did not allow the teacher to interview the complainants. A federal civil suit is now pending against the principal, but a decision is not due until October 2003. A separate arbitration decision on the teacher’s termination is due on Feb. 21. The decision may mean the teacher is allowed back on the payroll, but does not necessarily mean the teacher will be allowed to resume teaching. While the labor board found that Mr. Doe had made statements that the DOE was not obeying a federal court order protecting the rights of children with disabilities, his comments are protected under the Whistleblower’s Protection Act. The costs for this case continue to escalate as two Department of Labor and Department of Education Deputy Attorney Generals attend court proceedings in State Circuit Court and Federal Court. The lack of accountability for the egregious actions of DOE administrators has resulted in the loss of a skilled special education classroom teacher, depriving students of a desperately needed caring and competent instructor, as well as the loss of livelihood for the teacher. Meanwhile, the frantic search for mainland special education teachers continues as the state struggles to fill the quota of certified special education teachers required under the Felix Consent Decree. The recruiting company charges more than twice as much for mainland recruits than it costs the DOE to hire and retain qualified teachers locally. Once special education teachers get a taste of the DOE culture of recrimination and retaliation, as experienced by Mr. Doe, they will leave the state, leaving a vacuum of expertise, leaving children helpless. ”Laura Brown is the education writer and on the research staff of HawaiiReporter.com. She can be reached via email at” mailto:LauraBrown@Hawaii.rr.com