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Former Special Ed Teacher Sues Santa Barbara School District

A former special education teacher is suing the Santa Barbara Unified School District in federal court, alleging her contract wasn’t renewed because she pointed out district failings while advocating for disabled students.

San Francisco-based Leigh Law Group filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Emily Murray, a Santa Barbara area resident who was a special ed teacher at the district until June 2015.

In the complaint, Murray alleges the district decided to not retain her in the spring of 2015 despite satisfactory performance evaluations — reviews that only turned negative after Murray began advocating for students.

In one case, Murray emailed district officials to report federal funds provided to the district were being misspent by allowing an instructional aide assigned to work one-on-one with an autistic student to consistently leave early to coach athletic games.

“As a result, the student to which the aide was assigned was left without a 1:1 aide in violation of the child’s IEP and federal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act,” the complaint states. “The student was consequently removed, each time the aide was absent, from the general education class because no aide was available – again in violation of the inclusion mandates of the IDEA.”

To make matters worse, the complaint alleges, removing the child from the classroom prompted the school’s automated attendance call system to phone the parent of the child listed as absent — causing unnecessary concern.

Murray claims her immediate supervisor instructed her to tell the general education teacher to mark the student as present even though he wasn’t, something that occurred many times in spring 2014.

She also warned her supervisors their actions were illegal, the complaint states.

Murray complained about that particular case and other “inappropriate restraints of disabled children” after the March 15, 2014, deadline for the district to non-retain teachers.

According to the complaint, Murray received her first poor evaluation and then her contract wasn’t renewed at the next opportunity in January 2015.

She alleges the move was retaliation for her complaints, and that the district violated a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits intimidation, threats, coercion or discrimination against a person for interfering on behalf of rights protected under the act.

The district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the labor code when it retaliated against Murray for complaining about rights protected under the ADA, the lawsuit states.

A school district spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Murray’s attorneys are demanding a jury trial, reinstatement and award of damages, including lost benefits and wages.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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