Education

Whistleblower lawsuit brings more allegations against Kentucky School for the Deaf

A former teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf has filed a whistleblower lawsuit, alleging that her contract was not renewed after she spoke out about problems at the residential school in Danville, including danger to students.

The lawsuit was filed in August in Franklin Circuit Court by Deanna Glasser against principal Toyah Robey, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, who under state law is the superintendent at the school, and the Kentucky Board of Education. Kentucky’s Whistleblower Act prohibits retaliation or discrimination against an employee who reports in good faith to appropriate authorities about suspected abuse or violations of law.

The lawsuit is among the recent examples of people voicing complaints about the public school which was founded in 1823.

While Robey and Lewis would not specifically comment on the lawsuit, Lewis said he was proud of the progress made in the last year.

“Noteworthy milestones in the last year include the opening of a new elementary school building, the continued growth of career and technical education for high school students, including agriculture and culinary arts programs, and the hiring of additional staff, including an assistant principal, who are deaf or hard of hearing,” he said.

In February, the Herald-Leader reported that some parents of students at the Kentucky School for the Deaf asked Kentucky Board of Education members to act on alleged problems that parents said ranged from student safety to bad food to bed bugs in the dorm.

And when Gov. Matt Bevin visited Boyle County in early October to announce road funds, Boyle County Magistrate Jason Cullen took the opportunity to tell Bevin in public that he had removed his hard-of-hearing son from the school because of significant problems with the administration. The Danville Advocate-Messenger reported that Bevin responded that he would look into the concerns and that “we owe people better than I think historically we’ve delivered.”

Cullen told the Herald-Leader that he took concerns to Bevin because his son, 6, was not getting a strong education at Kentucky School for the Deaf and was now enrolled in Boyle County Schools. Cullen said he was concerned about the principal’s treatment of staff and that other teachers and parents were afraid to speak up.

Glasser said in the lawsuit that her contract was wrongfully not renewed because she reported violations of law and discrimination against students at the school with disabilities, abuse of authority, and actions creating a substantial danger to the health and safety of students.

Glasser’s attorney JoEllen S. McComb said Glasser for many years had been a “zealous” advocate for the rights and education of students who are deaf.

She said Glasser had worked in the field for 25 years and has an extensive background in research and teaching in a number of institutions. Glasser was at KSD for three years. Robey became principal in the fall of 2017.

McComb said the lawsuit is not about personal grievances, or a claim of “my boss wasn’t nice to me.”

The lawsuit said Glasser was hired in August 2016 as a language arts teacher and in her first two years, got exemplary ratings on her performance evaluations. She taught honors English and developmental classes, coordinated the gifted and talented program, served on several committees and took on multiple tasks at the school.

Glasser said she also assisted students with immediate emergency social and emotional needs when other staff members were not available. She became aware in 2017-2018 of reported bullying and safety concerns of staff and students after a student brought a realistic air-soft gun into the school building, the lawsuit said. There was a lack of response on the part of the administration to dangerous students, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said that Glasser relayed multiple concerns to state education officials. One issue was that speech therapy services were not provided for students between August and November 2018, which was required for many of them.

Glasser was at a 2019 meeting in which parents complained about Robey’s leadership and alleged that she failed to create a parent-teacher organization. The parents voiced concerns about student safety, food and bed bugs, the lawsuit said.

In March 2019, Glasser told a state associate commissioner in a telephone conversation that staff had a fear of retaliation because of what was described as Robey’s “bullying-type conduct,” the lawsuit said.

After Glasser’s contract was not renewed, a May letter from Lewis to Glasser attached to the lawsuit said only that the decision was made after reviewing staffing needs.

The true reason, the lawsuit said, was “Robey’s desire to retaliate” against Glasser for her advocacy for the rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing students and fellow teachers, for her opposition when students were deprived of services, and for her opposition to discrimination against them. Lewis in approving the non-renewal was trying to “punish Glasser” and “silence her speech” and reporting of illegal practices toward students and staff, the lawsuit said.

“Mrs. Glasser was really thrilled to come to this residential school for the deaf...to work with an exclusively deaf and hard of hearing population and was truly dismayed at the failure to follow best practices under the relatively new administration of Toyah Robey,” said McComb. “And because she spoke out about that and was forthcoming when put on the spot about why she took certain measures to ensure safety and to ensure students’ mental health needs were being attended to, it wasn’t appreciated.”

“When she was outspoken, she feared that there would be consequences and she was right,” McComb said, “She was not renewed and as far as competence goes, I think it would be very hard for the school to find anyone as highly qualified, as her exemplary formal evaluations evidence, or as dedicated..I can’t overemphasize the degree of dedication my client has to these kids, to these students, to this institution.”

Glasser is asking in the lawsuit for reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, and attorneys fees.

Kentucky Department of Education officials said in a response filed in court in August that the lawsuit should be dismissed and that they aren’t liable for any damages.

Responding to the complaints in general, Robey said she had an open door policy.

“Parents have my phone number and are welcome to call at anytime,” said Robey. “I can’t address problems that I am not aware of....“I have nothing to hide. “I love that school. I would put my staff up against anybody.”

“Is every school perfect every day? Absolutely not,” said Robey. “We are always working. There have been improvements since we have been there: the rigor, the expectations and focus on academics and making sure that we have got the supports our kids need and that they are growing.”

Robey said she has hired an additional deaf teacher in the past year and after a nationwide search, a deaf assistant principal, so her students could have more deaf role models.

While the school has had a few problems with bed bugs, it has “processes in place” and special equipment to address that, Robey said.

“We are providing that homelike atmosphere that our parents are trusting us to provide during the week,” Robey said. “Everybody there is working hard for the students that we serve.”

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