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News / Northwest

Former Kalama teacher sues district, employees

By Minka Atkinson, The Daily News
Published: May 23, 2024, 7:37am

LONGVIEW — Former Kalama Elementary School reading specialist Lindsay Amos filed a lawsuit this month in federal court against Kalama School District and several Kalama employees, saying that she was pushed out of her job by a hostile work environment after she reached out to the state with questions about a school policy.

The lawsuit also targets Kalama Elementary Principal Bellina Dolezal, Vice Principal Tiffany Fechter, former Superintendent Eric Nerison and former interim Superintendent Jennifer McCallum as individuals.

Amos is asking the court to award her general and punitive damages against the defendants, attorney fees and compensation for any tax penalties. She also asked to be reinstated as reading specialist with back pay and the same seniority and benefits she would have if she never left.

The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit, and did not answer questions about school policy by deadline.

The school and the individual defendants who still work at the district — Dolezal, Fechter and McCallum — are being represented by the Patricia K. Buchanan of the Seattle law firm Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch. Buchanan requested a jury of 12, after the plaintiff’s initial filing requested six.

Amos is being represented by Hugh McGavick of the Law Offices of Hugh J. McGavick in Tacoma. Court filings do not include Nerison’s attorney information.

According to the lawsuit — filed May 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington — Amos discovered in March 2023 a student wasn’t receiving enough learning time.

The student’s Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, required them to receive 45 minutes of reading instruction from a special education teacher each day had only been receiving 30 minutes, the lawsuit states. The student had also been receiving reading intervention from Amos through the Learning Assistance Program for 30 minutes a day, 15 of which had been improperly counted toward their IEP requirement.

An IEP is a plan developed for a student with an identified disability that outlines specific supports and services they should receive to be successful in school. Learning Assistance Program is a state-funded program meant to help students scoring below grade level in language arts or math catch up to grade standards.

Amos said in the lawsuit that she discussed the error with a special education teacher in a “positive and non-contentious” meeting March 15, 2023. The day after the meeting, Amos sent an email to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction asking whether Learning Assistance Program services could count as reading instruction required by an IEP. A state representative responded that they would not automatically count, but could if the lessons were designed and supervised by a special education staff member, which Amos was not.

Teresa Burns, the district’s multi-tiered system of supports coordinator, asked Amos to forward the state response to her for future reference, according to the lawsuit. Burns then forwarded the email without Amos’ knowledge to Dolezal, Fechter and union representative Kendi Flowers.

Two weeks later, Amos was called into a meeting with Dolezal, Fechter and Burns. The lawsuit describes the meeting as “very contentious from the beginning” and says that Dolezal questioned why Amos contacted the state education department directly instead of asking someone at the school.

The next day, Dolezal informed Amos that she was being transferred from the position of reading specialist, which she has held for eight years, to be a first grade teacher next school year. A letter from Dolezal said that this was due to issues with Amos providing Learning Assistance Program data and collaborating with other staff, but Amos said in the lawsuit that she believed it was because she contacted the state education department.

Amos did not return to work after the day of the meeting, and went on leave for the rest of the school year. In May, she received her annual evaluation, which she said in the lawsuit she didn’t sign because it stated incorrectly that Fechter had evaluated her classroom work in November. According to Amos, neither Fechter nor Dolezal observed her work during the 2022-23 school year despite being required to. She also said the annual evaluation was unfair to her and “the worst evaluation she ever received at KSD.”

After McCallum became interim superintendent in July, she affirmed Amos’ placement as a first grade teacher. Amos requested a leave of absence for the 2023-24 school year in August, which was approved. She then resigned from the district Jan. 3.

“The administration was so hostile to me that my working conditions became intolerable,” Amos wrote in an email to The Daily News. “They made it clear they did not want me to be there.”

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