District, state investigate teacher
WILLMAR -- A Willmar Public Schools teacher has been the subject of five different investigations since February 2005. The investigations of special education teacher Lisa M. Vander Heiden are described in a complaint filed with the Minnesota Dep...
WILLMAR -- A Willmar Public Schools teacher has been the subject of five different investigations since February 2005.
The investigations of special education teacher Lisa M. Vander Heiden are described in a complaint filed with the Minnesota Department of Education. The complaint seeks an administrative hearing on allegations that Vander Heiden mistreated an elementary special needs student for more than two years.
Three of the investigations were initiated by the school district, and two were conducted by the Department of Education after complaints were made about her treatment of students.
The Willmar School District has initiated three different investigations of Vander Heiden since February 2005, according to the complaint.
In February 2005, Leedom hired the Ratwick, Roszak & Maloney law firm to investigate reports that Vander Heiden "excessively punishes" her students and the firm found it "unsupported on the record," according to the complaint.
In February 2006, the firm again investigated allegations that the teacher "mistreats the students" and ended with the same conclusion -- "unsupported on the record."
In September 2006, a third investigation began of five specific allegations of maltreatment involving two students, including the girl who is the subject of the complaint. The investigation found evidence that the girl had been denied access to toilet facilities and classified the incident as "a lapse in judgment."
By contrast, two state investigations in the past year have found that Vander Heiden did mistreat the child and violated her rights as a child with a disability.
One investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by the child's mother after she learned of the alleged abuses. That investigation looked into whether the district had violated her rights as a special education student.
In a report issued in December 2006, the state found that the teacher did violate her rights because she did not give the child an opportunity to modify her behavior before she was placed at a desk with walls on three sides, called a "thinking desk," or before she was placed in a locked seclusion room. It also found that she had been denied access to toilet facilities.
A separate maltreatment investigation report issued in April this year found that Vander Heiden had engaged in maltreatment of the child because she denied her access to toilet facilities.
During the maltreatment investigation, state officials were concerned that behavior logs were not available. Vander Heiden said she had destroyed the logs. However, they were found in June, after the investigation was complete, and were sent to the state.