Settling out of court and paying $175,000 to a former teacher of special needs students saved the district money, said a school board member.
The teacher claimed she had been retaliated against by district officials for her support of transgender students.
The Lakota Board of Education approved the legal settlement by a 4-0 vote at its Monday meeting, with member Lynda O’Connor absent.
Teacher Emilly Osterling, who had sued in federal court saying that Lakota was targeting her for advocating for transgender student rights, will receive $175,000, which includes back pay starting last fall that includes a payment from Lakota’s insurance provider. She will also be allowed to retroactively resign as of last September.
“I think it is best interest of the district financially to avoid costly litigation and it is time to just move on,” said Lakota school board member Todd Parnell.
In September the board unanimously approved a resolution stating its intention to fire Osterling.
Parnell declined to comment further but in a statement released by the board, members wrote: “in order to resolve the outstanding litigation matters with Ms. Emilly Osterling, the board agreed to rescind the resolution to terminate Ms. Emilly Osterling in exchange for her resignation, dismissal of her grievance, and dismissal of the federal lawsuit.
“An additional payment ($100,000) was agreed to by the district’s insurance company in order to resolve the remaining claims.”
Osterling declined to comment, telling the Journal-News the settlement prohibited her from doing so.
Board members and other district officials declined to comment further.
In September, the board’s resolution regarding their intention to fire Osterling stated “her complete disregard of the needs of her special education students and refusal to follow the requirements of students’ individual education plans (IEPs) are at the very least unprofessional and provide the board the necessary cause to terminate her employment.”
School officials later contended Osterling’s argument she was punished for her public statements and actions in 2017 regarding transgender Lakota students was baseless.
“The allegations brought by Ms. Emilly Osterling, in response to the board’s intent to terminate her employment, are patently false, not supported by facts and are without merit,” the board said at the time.
After months of state-mandated mediation hearings and delays, the board and Osterling came to a settlement prior to Monday evening’s board meeting.
Osterling, who earned $73,788 annually before being suspended without pay in September, had 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.
She spoke to the school board in December 2017 arguing for expanding transgender policy for students but her proposed policy was defeated by the board.
Soon after the board approved the creation of a new office called the Lakota Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion (LODI) department.
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