School board to pay $320K to teacher who was dismissed after reporting mistreatment of student

Published 8:39 am Thursday, December 17, 2020

Opelika’s city school board will pay $320,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former teacher who claimed she was dismissed in retaliation for speaking out about the mistreatment of a special education student.

The Opelika-Auburn News reported that members agreed Monday to end the suit filed by Meagan Norris, who taught at Jeter Primary School.

In November 2017, according to a memorandum opinion and order from U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr., Norris observed that a physical education teacher segregated one of Norris’ students during class with the use of a taped barrier, and that the student’s individualized educational program required that he or she be mainstreamed with general education students during P.E.

“Norris voiced her opposition to this practice to Principal [David] Carpenter on November 2, 2017,” the court memorandum read. “According to Norris, she told Carpenter ‘this cannot happen,’ ‘it’s segregation, it’s hurtful, at the end of the day, forget the legal side of it, it’s just mean.’ Carpenter disputes that this conversation ever occurred, although he acknowledged having a conversation with Bailey about the inappropriate use of the tape barrier in early November.”

The judge’s memorandum stated the tape barrier was removed the following day but was reintroduced the next Monday and stayed through the end of the semester and into the spring semester. The student’s father met with Norris in March 2018 to complain about the ongoing segregation of the student, the memo said.

After a family member of the student videotaped the meeting with Norris in which she said she had repeatedly brought up her complaints about the taped barrier to the principal, the family filed a request for a due process hearing with the state department of education on the grounds that their child had been denied educational services. Norris attended a pre-resolution meeting regarding the family’s concerns in April, according to the court memorandum.

While the hearing was ongoing, two Physical Education teachers told the principal they saw Norris drop another special education student after holding him by one leg and one arm, the judge’s memo said.

The superintendent recommended against renewing Norris’ contract in May 2018, but a state child welfare investigation found no indication that Norris had abused a child.

Principal David Carpenter and others said performance issues were behind the decision to get rid of Norris, she had received favorable written performance evaluations during her two years at the school, a judge’s memorandum said.

In a statement, the school board said it determined its employees “behaved appropriately at all times,” but its attorneys recommended settling.