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Willmar teacher appeals ruling

WILLMAR -- A Willmar teacher is appealing a state Department of Education ruling that she is guilty of maltreatment of a child.

Willmar special education teacher Lisa Van Der Heiden filed an appeal in Kandiyohi County District Court last month.

A recent court order requires the Department of Education to turn over documents related to the department's decision. Judge Michael Thompson also wrote a letter to the attorneys in the case asking them to meet to decide if they wanted a court hearing on the appeal or if they thought it could be decided through a judicial review of documents and legal briefs.

The attorneys are to notify him of their decision so that he can set a schedule for filing briefs or set a hearing date.

A paraprofessional at Lincoln Elementary School had reported Van Der Heiden for denying a child access to the restroom. The incident took place in April 2005, and the report was submitted in August 2006.

A state investigator initially found that Van Der Heiden was guilty of maltreatment for not allowing her to use the restroom when she asked. A short time later, the child had a wetting accident in a time-out room in Van Der Heiden's classroom.

The child in this complaint is also the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit stemming from Van Der Heiden's alleged mistreatment of her, including use of physical holds and of a time-out room.

Van Der Heiden asked for a reconsideration of that Department of Education ruling and was denied. She then sought a hearing, which was held in October 2007. The hearing officer recommended overturning the maltreatment determination, but that recommendation was overruled by Deputy Commissioner of Education Chas Anderson.

In court papers, Van Der Heiden and her lawyer Rebecca Hamblin say that Anderson's decision should be overturned because it is not supported by the law or the evidence and because Anderson exceeded her statutory authority. They also ask to have additional evidence considered.

In the documents, Van Der Heiden's lawyer also points out that the person who reported it waited longer than a year to do it and suggests that the "motivations and credibility are suspect given the zeal she has exhibited in attempting to damage Ms. Van Der Heiden and her reputation."

Elsewhere in court documents, the paraprofessional says she did not know at the time of the incident that it might be considered illegal.

In recommending that the maltreatment determination be reversed, the hearing officer noted that the paraprofessional had "philosophical differences" with Van Der Heiden and thought she was "excessively authoritarian."