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The Special Ed Advocate Newsletter
November 19, 2001

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Alert: Jury Awards One Million to Fired Special Ed Teacher

In September 1998, Pamella Settlegoode accepted a job as special education teacher with the Portland Public School District. Because she had a doctorate in education, her students called her Dr. S.

Discrimination

Soon after she began work as an adaptive PE teacher, Dr. Settlegoode was struck by inequities in access and services. She found that students with disabilities were treated like "second class citizens."

Her students were not allowed to participate in activities that were freely available to non-disabled students. For example:

* Non-disabled students had PE five days a week
* Many of Dr. S's students had adaptive PE one day a week
* Many students with disabilities were bussed to a different school for weight training
* Non-disabled students participated in sports like tennis and track
* Many students with disabilities were not allowed to participate in sports

After Dr. S. taught a child who was born without arms to play tennis by using straps, her supervisor terminated tennis instruction.

Dr. S. discovered that the high school was not accessible for people in wheelchairs - no accessible sidewalks, no elevators, no ramps.

* Non-disabled students and teachers used a sidewalk to move safely outside the building
* Disabled students in wheelchairs and students who were deaf had to use the street and parking lot

The wrestling coach was superb coach - and a quadriplegic. He wanted his students to learn about independence and the value of hard work and perseverance. The high school did not have ramps or elevators for students or staff. When the coach had to move from one floor to the next, his students had to carry him up the stairs, deposit him on the floor, and retrieve his chair.

Dr. Settlegoode wrote letters about these violations, including the need for ramps and crosswalks at the high school (e.g. no access to tennis courts; kids in wheelchairs using parking lots/streets to get to fields; crossing the street is dangerous for wheelchair/ walker /deaf students.)

She complained that the district altered IEPs and failed to provide services listed in IEPs, violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. How did her supervisor deal with these issues? Her supervisor directed her to discontinue her practice of communicating through letters!

Although she met with a member of the school board, the problems did not improve.

Retaliation

Dr. Settlegoode contacted Robert Crebo, special education director, to express her concerns about discrimination and retaliation. How did Crebo respond? He directed her to discontinue letter writing! After she contacted Crebo, the district renewed its retaliation against her.

Her supervisor took away responsibilities. She was directed not to write letters. She was ordered not to volunteer for a reading program during her lunch hour. She was excluded from IEP meetings for her students. Classes were canceled.

But Dr. Settlegoode continued to write letters. She wrote to Superintendent Ben Canada about retaliation and ongoing problems with discrimination against students with disabilities. Canada admitted that he read one page of her letter, saw the claim of retaliation, and forwarded her letter to those individuals who were retaliating against Dr. Settlegoode!

Eighteen months after she began work as an adaptive PE teacher, Dr. S was fired.

The Lawsuit

Pamella Settlegoode brought suit against the school district and two school administrators for violating her civil rights. Fortunately, Dr. Settlegoode is married to William Goode, an attorney who specializes in civil rights litigation and is an experienced federal court litigator.

Mr. Goode prepared and filed the lawsuit against Portland Public Schools, Multnomah School District No. 1, Susan Winthrop, Robert Crebo, and Larry Whitson. (Note: Midway through the trial, Mr. Whitson was dropped as a defendant.)

The Complaint filed in the U. S. District Court alleged violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, (as a 1983 action), violation of the Oregon Whistle Blowers Act, Defamation of Character, and a violation of the Equal Pay Act.

A few weeks before the trial, Pamella Settlegoode retained Greg Kafoury and Mark McDougal as the counsel for the trial. The firm of Kafoury and McDougal is well known in Portland.

The Verdict

The trial lasted eight days. The jury deliberated nine hours before announcing their unanimous verdict.

The jury awarded Pamela Settlegoode ONE MILLION DOLLARS and ordered Defendant Winthrop and Special Education Director Crebo to pay $50,000 in punitive damages.

In an interview after the verdict, the jury foreman said, "The big issue was the handicapped kids . . . That's what the Rehabilitation Act is all about. We wanted to send them a message that they are not invincible."

Lessons From This Case

"If it was not written down, it was not said. If it was not written down, it did not happen." Pete Wright (Frome Emotions to Advocacy, page 201) Pamella Settlegoode wrote letters to document her concerns. Her supervisors directed her to stop writing letters. She did not stop.

Change the facts. Dr. S. was fired. She filed a lawsuit. Assume she testified about these incidents but did not have letters to substantiate her claims. Do you think the outcome of her case would have been different? Absolutely!

In our book, FROM EMOTIONS TO ADVOCACY, we devote two chapters to letter writing and include an Appendix of sample letters to the school.

Chapter 23 is "How to Write Good Evidence Letters". You learn about the purposes of letters and how to use the letters purpose to guide you. You learn strategies you can use to ensure that your letters accomplish their purposes. We provide advice about how to write business letters, letter-writing tips, and sample letters that you can adapt to your circumstances.

Chapter 24 is "Writing the 'Letter to the Stranger''. You learn about two approaches to letter writing - the Blame Approach and the Story-Telling Approach. You learn about the Sympathy Factor, persuasion, and why you must not write angry letters to the school.

Appendix I is "Sample Letters to the School." Includes sixteen sample letters from two hypothetical parents. Learn how to use letters to tell your side of the story and to:

* Request Information
* Request a Meeting with a Teacher
* Document a Problem
* Express Appreciation
* Decline a Request
* Request an Evaluation
* Request a Records Review
* Request an IEP Meeting
* Request Test Scores
* Document Unresolved or Ongoing Problems
* Provide Ten-Day Notice to Withdraw Child

If you are a parent or teacher and you are having problems with the school, you need to read these chapters about letter writing.

Learn more about From Emotions to Advocacy, and download the able of contents, index and a sample chapter.

More on Retaliation & Settlegoode Case

Thanks to a tip from a newsletter subscriber, we learned about Pamella Settlegoode's case on Saturday afternoon. Pete contacted Greg Kafoury, one of the attorneys who represented Dr. Settlegoode during the trial. With Mr. Kafoury's help, Pete spoke to Bill Goode on Saturday night.

On Sunday afternoon, Pete had a lengthy interview with Pamella Settlegoode and her attorney spouse, Bill Goode.

Pete is writing an article about this landmark case. We are uploading the pleadings in Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools on the Wrightslaw site.

We expect send out another Alert within 24 hours with links to Pete's article and the pleadings in Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools, et. al.

To learn more about retaliation cases, please visit our Topics Page -
scroll down until you get to "Retaliation"


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