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District 518, former employee battle now includes criminal charges

Abbott

WORTHINGTON — The web of accusations between Independent School District 518 and a former employee continues to tangle and now has another participant.

Karen Abbott, a former Area Learning Center special education instructor with an active civil lawsuit against the district, was scheduled to appear Monday Nobles County District Court on a criminal charge related to disbursing private student data to the Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee, a group that has historically run a “vote no” campaign against the district’s referendum attempts. Abbott’s attorney John Wilka, submitted a not guilty letter to court administration on Friday.

The 45-year-old faces willful violation of government data practice act or rules after allegedly meeting with members of the WCPC and showing them private student documents. The misdemeanor offense is punishable up to 90 days imprisonment, a $1,000 fine or both.  

According to the criminal complaint filed in late June, District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard reported the alleged data practices violation to the Worthington Police Department after the WCPC allegedly shared specific student information on its public Facebook page along with Abbott’s resignation letter. The post, Landgaard reported to law enforcement in early March, did not include the special education student’s name. However, the child’s gender, specific medical diagnosis and health conditions, insurance status, school status and other personal information was shared.

As part of the investigation, the Worthington detective met with the student, who said Abbott — who served as their case manager — wasn’t given permission to release their private information. The student was not aware that certain information had been publicly shared, but said that given the specific medical conditions listed, it would be easy to discover whom it referred to.

The complaint further details that the detective attempted to speak with WCPC members Wilbur Prins and David Bosma regarding the Facebook post. Prins declined to speak with the detective unless receiving a guarantee that neither he nor the group would be charged with a crime, the complaint states.

In another contact attempt, Prins referred the detective to Bosma, who was elected as the committee’s chair and primary spokesman in April.

Bosma told the detective that he had never spoken to Abbott and referred him back to Prins, who did not return subsequent phone calls. As of Wednesday afternoon, Prins and Bosma did not have any personal criminal charges related to the investigation.

Although the specific post in question is no longer found on the WCPC Facebook page, it specified that Abbott meticulously redacted certain student information, but that “she showed (WCPC members) evidence” related to specific accusations.  

The complaint states that through a warrant, the detective did obtain a copy of the post from Facebook, which included all of the content Landgaard had specified to the department.

Abbott also filed a complaint against the district’s special education program, and the Minnesota Department of Education recently found multiple violations.

The civil lawsuit claiming the district violated her employee rights is active in the United States District Court of Minnesota.

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