Michael D. Clark reports:
A public records lawsuit filed to the Ohio Supreme Court and connected to a former special education teacher ended with a settlement approved by the Kings school board Tuesday evening.
The Kings Board of Education voted unanimously to approve an out-of-court settlement with the anti-tax group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes to release depositions taken by the district’s attorney during an investigation into allegations the former teacher had mistreated students.
The teacher, who resigned last year, was investigated by district officials, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the county prosecutor, but no charges were filed.
The Enquirer is not naming the former teacher because there have been no criminal charges filed by law enforcement agencies, nor are there documented allegations by Kings officials or any findings of wrongdoing by the Ohio Department of Education.
John Charleton, spokesman for state education department, said under Ohio law, department officials do not confirm the existence of any investigation unless it reaches the hearing stage or resolution on whether a teacher’s license is suspended or revoked.
The first complaint about the teacher came to Kings officials in October 2011 and by January 2012 the teacher was placed on administrative leave. The instructor, under a negotiated resignation agreement with the district in March 2012, received a letter of recommendation that included an excerpt from the teacher’s previously favorable job reviews.
Kings officials had initially disputed COAST’s lawsuit, contending depositions done by the district’s attorney with former school staffers, classroom aides and some of the students’ parents were not public record and were covered under attorney-client privilege.
Moreover, said Kings Superintendent Valerie Browning, Kings contended the depositions “might jeopardize the privacy and identity of our students” and their families if they were made public.
The depositions were shared with sheriff and county prosecutors, said Browning, “who determined no charges were warranted.”
The depositions obtained through a public records request by The Enquirer included allegations of the teacher improperly attaching a restraining belt on a chair designed for students with physical and mental disabilities, eating portions of students’ lunches and placing a screaming student who was screaming temporarily in a bathroom.
“Although the allegations of the teacher’s treatment of her students did not warrant legal action, the district discovered classroom practices that were in clear violation of our policy. Some of the teacher’s actions reflected poor decision-making and are not reflective of our mission to provide a positive learning environment,” Browning said.
“The protection and safety of our students are top priorities,” she said.
COAST board member Kim Grant, who filed the lawsuit against Kings, did not attend the board meeting and was unavailable to comment. But COAST attorney Chris Finney did comment, criticizing the board for not being forthcoming.
“For more than two years, the Kings Superintendent and school board hid from from approximately a dozen parents what was happening to their children in this teacher’s special needs classroom, making them complicit in the abuses that occurred,” Finney said. “Today, this teacher still has her license, and has a letter of recommendation from Kings, exposing more children to her abuse thanks to the Kings board.”
In the settlement, Kings officials agreed to pay $11,000 in court costs to COAST.