A court hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse on teacher Lisa Van Der Heiden's appeal of a decision by the Minnesota Department of Education.
The commissioner of education determined last spring that Van Der Heiden had committed maltreatment by denying a child access to a restroom, which is a violation of state law.
The child later wet her pants in a time-out room in Van Der Heiden's special education classroom at Lincoln Elementary School in Willmar.
Van Der Heiden no longer teaches at Lincoln. She is currently assigned to the Lakeview School at the adolescent treatment unit at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center. The investigation ste-mmed from a 2004 incident reported in spring 2005.
According to information in the court file, the child was running in the hall and told a paraprofessional she needed to go to the bathroom. They were walking to the restroom when they met Van Der Heiden. She instead took the child to her classroom to address her running behavior.
An initial investigation found that Van Der Heiden had committed maltreatment by denying the child access to the restroom. Van Der Heiden appealed and requested a hearing before an administrative law judge who recommended overturning the initial finding.
The deputy commissioner of education later ruled that the administrative law judge had erred, and she upheld the finding of maltreatment against Van Der Heiden.
Van Der Heiden appealed the ruling in Kandiyohi County District Court last summer.
In briefs filed in advance of the hearing, Van Der Heiden's attorneys Rebecca Hamblin and Jess Anna Glover claim that the commissioner exceeded her authority and made a decision that was not supported by the evidence. They also claim the long timeline of the investigation and hearings has been unfair to their client.
The attorneys wrote that the final decision was focused more on the initial investigation than on testimony at the administrative hearing. The commissioner also failed to address the credibility of the witnesses.
They also wrote that Van Der Heiden did not deny access to the toilet but told the child she needed to calm down before she went to the restroom.
Delaying access to the toilet is not the same as denying access, they wrote.
In the state's response, Martha Casserly of the Minnesota Attorney General's Office said the act of turning the child away from the restroom toward the classroom constituted a denial of access to the toilet.
There was no explanation given for why the child couldn't have been escorted to the restroom before her behavior was addressed, she wrote.
Casserly wrote that two other investigations, including one by the Willmar School District, also found that Van Der Heiden had denied the child access to the restroom.
The state's stance is that the commissioner's ruling was supported by the facts and correctly applied the law. The initial complaint was filed well within the three-year statute of limitations, she wrote, and Van Der Heiden did not establish that she had been harmed by the timeline of the investigation.
Van Der Heiden has been the focus of a federal lawsuit alleging that she violated the civil rights of a student. That lawsuit has been dismissed, but the plaintiffs are appealing the dismissal.
She has also been the subject of an investigation by the Department of Education's division of special education compliance and assistance, which found numerous violations of state and federal regulations in her classroom. The state Board of Teaching is also monitoring her performance as a result of the investigations.