Licensing board, teacher agree to monitoring
WILLMAR -- A Willmar teacher's work will be monitored for the next two years because of allegations that she has mistreated students. Special education teacher Lisa M. Van Der Heiden denied the allegations in a stipulation agreement with the Minn...
WILLMAR -- A Willmar teacher's work will be monitored for the next two years because of allegations that she has mistreated students.
Special education teacher Lisa M. Van Der Heiden denied the allegations in a stipulation agreement with the Minnesota Board of Teaching, but she agreed to the conditions in the agreement.
The agreement says no disciplinary action will be taken against her teaching licenses, but she will be monitored for compliance with "special education procedures." Quarterly reports will be sent to the Board of Teaching through February 2010. Van Der Heiden's teaching licenses expire in June 2010.
The agreement also includes the provision that new allegations could lead to a reopened investigation and possibly to proceedings seeking to suspend her license.
Van Der Heiden has been the subject of complaints from two families in the past year. According to documents filed in federal court, she has been investigated by the state or school district five times in the past three years.
After being on administrative leave for much of the 2006-07 school year, Van Der Heiden was reassigned last fall from Lincoln Elementary School to the education program at the adolescent treatment unit at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.
The parents of two children who were Van Der Heiden's students at Lincoln have alleged that she used improper physical holds to restrain them and often placed them in a locked seclusion room. She is also accused of denying a student access to the toilet.
The families of both students have filed complaints about her with the state Department of Education, claiming that Van Der Heiden mistreated the students and that school administrators did not put a stop to it.
The family of one child has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Margaret O'Sullivan Kane, the lawyer representing both children, said she plans to make the second child a party to the case already filed in federal court. Some aspects of the second child's case have been settled in confidential proceedings with the Department of Education.
Kane said she was pleased with the stipulation agreement. "We're getting close to accomplishing as much protection as we can for these kids," she said.
A possible drawback of the agreement is that the people supervising her under the agreement could be the same ones who are accused of inadequate supervision in the past, Kane said.
Van Der Heiden's lawyer, Rebecca Hamblin of Education Minnesota, said Friday afternoon that the two years of monitoring should not be considered a disciplinary action. She declined to say more about the case or how she would classify the monitoring.
Nancy Triplett, teacher ethics specialist for the Board of Teaching, said she could not talk about any details of the situation that are not included in the stipulation agreement.
Triplett did say that, in general, "monitoring agreements are not that common. ... Suspension (of teaching licenses) is more frequent." Suspension would be a more serious situation, she said.
Neither Hamblin nor Triplett could clarify a section of the stipulation agreement that says the board will close the matter after two years "if there are no further complaints or issues" during that time. Both offered the same answer: "The document speaks for itself."
However, it is not clear in the agreement whether the phrase covers complaints about the teacher's conduct during the two years of monitoring or if it would include complaints about conduct that took place before the monitoring began.
The agreement also says that "substantiated allegations of non-compliance with special education procedures during the two-year period" could lead the board to reopen its investigation and lead to disciplinary action. In that instance, too, the agreement does not stipulate whether the allegations must stem from conduct during the monitoring period.
The agreement states that, had the agreement not been reached, the state was prepared to move ahead with proceedings to determine if Van Der Heiden's license should be suspended.