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Unedited documents are sought in special ed lawsuit

The plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Willmar School District are asking to see the unedited documents related to investigations into the conduct of a special education teacher.

The tea-cher, Lisa Van Der Heiden, has been accused in the suit of mistreating two children, a boy and a girl, when they were students at Lincoln Elementary School in Willmar. The suit also alleges that school district administrators knew of the treatment and did not stop it.

The suit alleges excessive use of physical restraining holds and of a time-out room. Van Der Heiden is alleged to have hit the boy on the head and to have refused the girl access to the restroom, leading her to wet herself.

The state Department of Education has found Van Der Heiden guilty of maltreatment of a child in the case of denying the child access to the restroom.

The lawyer for the children, Margaret O'Sullivan Kane, filed the motion last week in U.S. District Court. Some documents have been turned over, but major portions of the information have been crossed out.

The motion asks the court to order the Department of Education, the state Board of Teaching and the school district's law firm to turn over unedited copies of the documents and the investigation reports. They have responded that they can't turn over the information without the court order, because of provisions in the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

The motion asks Magistrate Judge Jeanne J. Graham to review the documents in private once the unedited copies become available. Graham would then decide what portions of the documents are relevant to the lawsuit and should become part of the court record.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for July 17 in St. Paul.

Lawyers argued the defendants' motion to dismiss the suit in June and are still awaiting a ruling.

While the ruling is pending, attorneys continue working through the information-gathering process, called discovery. According to a court scheduling order filed in March, discovery is to be completed by Nov. 21. A jury trial is scheduled for April 2009.

Kane filed examples of the redacted copies of investigative reports from the Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney law firm, which also represents many of the defendants in the suit.

Large sections of each document appear to have been edited using a black marker. The names of those interviewed are crossed out, as well as most of what they said.

In her filing, Kane said that the law firm did not provide a "statutory basis" for crossing out the information.