Lakota teacher of special needs students suspended

Lawyer: Lakota teacher targeted for backing transgender students.

A Lakota Local Schools teacher has been suspended after claims she neglected her instructional duties for more than a dozen special needs students, destroyed records, failed to communicate with parents and violated district, state and federal laws for teaching students with disabilities.

Emilly Osterling, who was working as an intervention specialist at Liberty Junior School, was suspended without pay on Wednesday from her $73,788 a year job after a school board vote Tuesday evening, the Journal-News has learned.

Board members approved a resolution listing district officials’ allegations against Osterling and their claims that she failed in meeting some of her professional duties with 18 special needs students dating back to 2016.

Board members, who voted 4-0 to pass the resolution with member Todd Parnell absent, stated they also are considering firing Osterling from the Butler County school district in response to a recommendation by Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller.

For now Osterling, who has been a prominent Lakota teachers union official and a National Education Association (NEA) board member and co-chair of the NEA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus, is suspended without pay.

The board’s 11-page resolution lists a series of allegations — none of them criminal — pertaining to Osterling’s dealings with 18 special needs students and their parents. The resolution cites “behavior which are willful and persistent violations of board policy” pertaining to staff ethics as well as Ohio’s code of professional conduct for educators “and federal laws governing how she educates and serves the students with disabilities.”

“As a result of errors, failures and unprofessional actions of Ms. Osterling, the board was required to provide hundreds of hours of compensatory education to students with disabilities that should have been provided with the hours during the respective school years by Ms. Osterling originally,” according to the board’s resolution.

However, an attorney for Osterling, 17-year veteran instructor, said the special needs instructor was targeted by district officials for speaking out on the behalf of transgender students.

According to documents obtained by the Journal-News, Osterling is the victim of a “bare-knuckled retaliation for her exercise of her Constitutional right to free speech,” wrote Osterling’s attorney, Stephen Imm, in a June 11 letter to Lakota’s lawyer.

In December, Osterling joined a handful of Lakota staffers, some parents and students in lobbying the school board to greatly expand its policies in granting additional rights to transgender students.

According to Imm’s letter, he claims Lakota officials began building a “paper trail” against Osterling in February.

Moreover, Imm dismissed the board’s allegations of negligence of professional duties against his client — including missing or destroyed student records — as “of a ticky-tack nature” that “almost exclusively involve supposed paperwork errors that would ordinarily be addressed — if they were addressed at all — by some type of informal counseling.”

The board’s action, Imm said, “occurred on the heels of Emilly speaking out publicly, on several occasions, about issues related to the appropriate treatment of transgender students. The board recently voted down the proposals Emilly had made concerning the training of staff on this subject and the proverbial ‘paper trail’ against her then began.”

A review by the Journal-News of Osterling’s personnel file showed no previous reprimands for any professional misconduct — or other transgressions — and her evaluations were nearly entirely positive.

The attorney stated in his letter, “we are frankly astonished that the district is moving to terminate this outstanding educator on such a flimsy pretext, without any prior disciplinary action, and in such proximity to her expression of her constitutionally protected opinions.”

Miller said the board should consider firing Osterling “due to the severity of the allegations,” according to the board resolution.

Board members state in the resolution they “shall proceed with termination proceedings at its public meeting on September 24, unless Osterling files a written demand for a hearing before a state-appointed referee.”

Imm threatened to sue Lakota Schools should officials continue their current course of action against Osterling.

But in a statement released Thursday afternoon, Lakota Spokeswoman Betsy Fuller said, “Lakota’s students with disabilities deserve to be educated according to their identified needs as well as state and federal regulations.”

“When we discover that an employee is not fulfilling the requirements of their position, it is the board’s duty to ensure that the matter is fully and fairly investigated,” said Fuller.

“When severe failure to perform one’s job duties is discovered, the board can no longer work through and/or seek to improve an employee’s performance, but must consider termination,” she said.

The allegations made against Osterling in some instances go back two years and include claims she was negligent in maintaining records concerning Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for her special needs students.

The board’s resolution also refers to allegations of “impermissible and inappropriate destruction of student records” and claims she “failed to communicate with parents regarding their (special needs) students on IEPs.”

Moreover, the accusations made by the board include claims on some occasions with different students she “misrepresented and/or falsely stated” progress on students IEPs.

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