Dismissed teacher wins $1 million lawsuit
By The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. A physical education teacher who worked with severely disabled students was awarded more than $1 million Nov. 16 by a federal jury that found she was unfairly dismissed.
Pamella E. Settlegood alleged in the lawsuit, filed in Portland’s U.S. District Court, that her contract was not renewed last year because she accused the Portland Public School District of not complying with federal laws that protect the rights of disabled students.
Jurors on Nov. 16 awarded Settlegood $902,000 from the school district and $50,000 each from two district administrators.
District spokesman Lew Frederick said the district disagrees with the verdict and is considering its legal options. Maureen Sloane, the school district’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment.
Settlegood worked with disabled students at six Portland-area schools from September 1998 to June 2000 on a probationary basis. The district cited incompetence when it did not renew her contract in March 2000, said her lawyer, Greg Kafoury.
Kafoury said his client had told supervisors disabled students weren’t treated the same as nondisabled students. Federal law says school districts must provide equal equipment and education to disabled and nondisabled students, no matter the difficulty or expense.
“It was very unsettling. I saw kids having to use freight elevators. I saw kids getting only one day of physical education a week when the other kids were getting five,” Settlegood said. “Our kids got broken-down leftovers.”
Settlegood eventually told district administrator Susan Winthrop about her concerns, she said. As supervisor for orthopedic services for Portland Public Schools, Winthrop investigated Settlegood’s allegations for nearly a year and did nothing, Settlegood said.
Settlegood “wrote to these administrators saying, ‘We are in violation of federal law, and no one seems to be doing anything about it,’ ” said Kafoury.
Winthrop on Nov. 16 referred questions to Sloane, the district’s attorney.
Settlegood then went to Robert Crebo, who was director of special education services for the district, with her concerns.
Settlegood said once she contacted Crebo, the district began taking away her responsibilities at certain schools and ordered her not to volunteer for a reading program during her lunch hour. She learned in March 2000 that her contract with the district would not be renewed.
Settlegood is currently unemployed, though she was a visiting professor at Linfield College in McMinnville last year.
She said last week’s verdict even if it is appealed can bring change to the Portland schools.
“I feel renewed as an educator,” she said. “This has restored my faith in how important the First Amendment is ... that people do believe in teachers and our duty to our students.”
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