2017-05-19 / Front Page

Civil trial involving teacher, RSU 57, set for Monday

By TAMMY WELLS
Senior Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A civil trial involving a suit filed by a Regional School Unit 57 teacher against the school district for actions she said were taken against her in the 2014-15 school year is scheduled to commence Monday at U.S. District Court in Portland. 

Charlene Richard filed the civil complaint in May 2016. It alleges retaliation by the school district under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Maine Human Rights Act and the Whistleblowers Protection Act, according to the original complaint on file with the federal court.

Richard is seeking recovery for damages arising from retaliation she alleges she suffered during the 2014-2015 school year at Waterboro Elementary School where she taught Kindergarten. She was first hired by the district more than 10 years ago and now teaches as Shapleigh Memorial School, which is also in the district.

RSU 57 attorney Melissa Hewey in a pre-trial brief said what happened to Richard was not retaliation.

“It was a responsible attempt by the School District to help an employee improve,” Hewey wrote on RSU 57‘s behalf. “She has difficulty dealing with a certain type of student – namely boys with behavior problems – and as a result, she wanted additional help in her classroom so that she could spend more of her time and attention with the more compliant students she refers to as “bucket fillers.”

Hewey said that the evidence at trial will show that Richard did not follow through with suggestions and strategies provided to her.

Richard hasd been a teacher in the district for more than 10 years when the alleged events took place. RSU 57 had never reprimanded or otherwise disciplined her, according to a pre-trial brief filed by her attorney, Stacey Neumann. Her performance evaluations during that time frame were “all favorable, even exemplary,” Neumann wrote.

Richard’s lawsuit against the district claims that during the 2013-14 school year and into the 2014-15 school year, she advocated for evaluation and additional services for students in her class with suspected, but at that point unidentified, disabilities.

She claims retaliation against her by the RSU 57 administration, including then-Superintendent John Davis, whom she alleges “cruelly and unfairly admonished her” for poor classroom management. She also claims Davis unfairly blamed students' behavioral challenges on her teaching skills. She said a letter placed in her personnel file states she had poor classroom management skills, among other alleged deficiencies. She claimed the retaliation continued and took a number of forms, including removing her from a classroom assignment when she was on temporary medical leave and placing her on an unwarranted corrective action plan.  

In the RSU 57 pre-trial brief, Hewey said the parties had agreed to several points in a Memorandum of Understanding dated Dec. 15. 2015. 

“The parties ... understood that when Richard returned to work she would pick up where she left off, which included continuing to work on her Performance Improvement Plan under the guidance and supervision of her new principal and assistant principal,” Hewey wrote on the school district’s behalf.

U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. is scheduled to preside at the bench trial.

Richard is seeking  economic and non-economic damages, court costs and attorneys fees.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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