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District 518 special education programming under investigation

WORTHINGTON — A former District 518 employee vacated her position at the same time she filed a complaint against the district with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).  

District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard confirmed Monday that a complaint has been filed with MDE, which will prompt the state to conduct an investigation. The complaint came on the heels of former District 518 Area Learning Center Special Education Instructor Karen Abbott's resignation letter dated Jan. 24.

MDE will conduct an investigation regarding allegations Abbott made about special education violations. Landgaard said he could not comment on the allegations due to the active investigation.

“We’ll let the complaint process work through like it’s supposed to and we’ll deal with that when it’s complete,” he said.

Abbott’s one-page letter of resignation surfaced Monday afternoon on the Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee’s Facebook page. The letter was sent to Landgaard; District 518 Board of Education members; Area Learning Center Principal Barry Fischer; District 518 Special Education Coordinator Deb Stoll; and Education Minnesota Worthington (teachers’ union) representative Jodi Hansen and field staff Jackie Baumgard.

Abbott, who joined the district at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, resigned effective immediately, citing a string of claims ranging from alleged personal mistreatment to a variety of alleged special education violations.

Abbott claims she continually reported Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) violations to her supervisors and questioned attendance and grading policies, which she further claims were condoned or ignored by her supervisors, whom she specifically identified as Fischer, Stoll and Director of Teaching and Learning Katie Clarke.

Abbott’s formal resignation came one day after she said she was called in for a formal reprimand, which she said she refused to sign.

“The meeting yesterday was a clear indication that my situation would, if even possible, continue to get worse,” Abbott stated in her resignation. “I can no longer continue to work in such a hostile environment as it is directly affecting my health.”

Abbott did not return The Globe’s request for comment by press time Tuesday.

Abbott and 10 other teachers’ resignations were approved Tuesday night during the regular school board meeting. The district caught flack for attaching all teachers’ resignation letters to Tuesday night’s board agenda packet except Abbott’s. According to Landgaard, Abbott’s letter of resignation was intentionally omitted due to the nature of the complaint and accusations under investigation.

“We’ve done that in the past — this isn’t the first time,” Landgaard said about withholding a resignation letter from public knowledge while an investigation is pending.

The district was to submit a response to the complaint filed with MDE sometime this week, Landgaard said. MDE will then begin interviewing individuals, including students and teachers related to the matter, he added.

MDE has 60 days to complete its findings, so Landgaard expects a decision in early April.

The pending investigation is not the first time District 518’s special education protocol has been investigated by MDE. According to the MDE’s 13-page formal response to a complaint dated Jan. 19, 2011, the district violated more than five Minnesota statutes — some more than once — which affected five students during the 2010-2011 school year.

The decision followed a complaint filed in 2010 by an individual that alleged special education students were removed from school during the 2010-2011 school year without the benefit of due process and without the benefit of any educational services, the response document details.

The 2011 decision outlined several corrective actions the district was to take, which included providing training to appropriate personnel and submitting an agenda of that training to MDE.

The district’s special education coordinator during the 2010-2011 school year is no longer employed by the district.