An award-winning special education teacher has sued her Long Island school district, saying officials there retaliated against her after she spoke up for students who were not getting the help they are promised under law.
Akosua Agyeman had been teaching in the Roosevelt School District for more than a decade when she became concerned that some of her students were not getting the extra services mandated by state law. This ranged from students whom she said were not being taught by trained special education teachers, to students who were not being given special test accommodations, like extra time of having instructions read aloud.
Agyeman brought her concerns to the state and the state vindicated her, finding that the district was violating policy and requiring them to change.
But Agyeman says the district retaliated against her for raising those concerns - bringing a false claim against her and making her work life so uncomfortable that she left and did not return.
“I don’t think that anybody would ever understand the extent of trying to do the right thing and becoming a target as the result,” Agyeman told the I-Team.
Officials at the Roosevelt Union Free School District said in a statement they cannot comment on the specifics of pending litigation. The district is confident that the allegations will be dismissed once the facts are presented in the appropriate forum, they said.
Stephen Kohn, the executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center in Washington, DC, said New York is rated one of the worst states in the nation for protecting whistleblowers. He said there is no uniform federal law protecting them.
“Textbook retaliation,” he said of Agyeman’s case. “They removed her when the investigators were coming in.”
Agyeman said she started out trying to go through protocols, raising her concerns with her direct supervisor. But when her concerns weren’t heeded, she didn’t feel she could let the issue drop. For one thing, extra help can mean the difference between a special education student’s success and failure.
For another, if a student is not receiving the help they are required to on a state exam, reporting the problem is required by law.
“It can totally totally change the students scores, how they fare in class, how they do academically, how they do socially. It’s completely against all of the laws and it totally goes against their rights,” Agyeman said.
Clara Gillens Eromosele, whose daughter was in Agyeman’s class for several years, said what Agyeman was fighting for matters. She said while she was very involved in her daughter’s education, many parents work full time, and depend on teachers like Agyeman to make sure their children are treated well.
The day after the state announced it would investigate Agyeman’s complaint, the special education teacher was reassigned to her home without pay.A certified letter from school officials indicated she was being investigated for files that went missing from her computer.
One week after her reassignment, a letter from the school cleared Agyeman to go back to work, but also reprimanded her for failing to comply with the school’s grading policy.
But Agyeman said she has not returned to the classroom. She feels the the conflict has made her work environment too toxic for her to each effectively.
“I left on a Thursday," she said. "All my personal things are still in the classroom, and I never went back.”