Angela Jolley, a former Columbia Public Schools employee, is suing the district, alleging she was fired from her job after sharing concerns and photographs related to isolation and isolation of students with disabilities.
The civil lawsuit was filed April 12 in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court. It says the district administration retaliated against Jolley, who had served as a learning specialist at the Center for Reactive Education (CORE), after she told the district she had photographed locked wooden boxes in which the students were sent for a “time out” and had publicly shared his concerns. with district officials and state legislators. The photos were later obtained by news outlets and reported on.
In September 2019, Jolley told district administration that she took the photos “and about her concerns that led her to take the photos,” according to the lawsuit. This followed a meeting with district staff in which Jolley and others were told “we’ll find out who did this.” She found it threatening and told the administration the truth because she feared her peers would be punished, the lawsuit says.
At the end of the 2019-20 school year, Jolley was told she would not be allowed to return to the CORE building the following school year and was forced into a new position at the Rosetta Avenue Learning Center, according to the lawsuit. Towards the end of the 2020-2021 school year, she was told that she could not return to Rosetta the next school year either.
The lawsuit argues that with limited job choices, Jolley then attempted to apply as a substitute teacher in the district, but the district allegedly barred her from replacing.
“The Complainant is not eligible to substitute in her home school district due to her prior reports of unsafe conditions for children with disabilities at CPS,” it says.
As of 2:30 p.m. Monday, the district had yet to be officially serviced, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
“We cannot comment specifically on pending or ongoing litigation,” Baumstark said. “However, the District is confident in its employment decisions and intends to vigorously defend itself.”
The lawsuit states that Jolley was concerned about the district’s use of a private contractor Specialized Education Services Inc. (SESI) to assist students with disabilities at CORE. She reported that the contractor’s disciplinary tactics for students with special needs were more aggressive than de-escalation and that the SESI manual considered the use of isolation and isolation practices on students to be appropriate in disciplinary contexts.
“During the 2019-20 school year, children were heard crying inside the boxes and students were heard screaming to be released from the boxes,” the lawsuit states. He adds that the students were also locked in a storage closet and filing room and “urinated while locked in those spaces” at the CORE Building.
The lawsuit also describes a situation in Rosetta, in which Jolley witnessed another district educator yelling at a child. Jolley also said she was told while at Rosetta that the educator threatened to drag a student, who was participating in a sit-down strike, across the playground if the student didn’t get up.
Jolley seeks compensatory damages “for his costs and attorneys’ fees, for postjudgment interest, and for such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
A new seclusion and restraint policy, which will be put to a vote by the Columbia School Board on May 9, includes a section prohibiting district retaliation against anyone for providing information or reporting a violation of the policy.