MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – A substitute teacher who was pushed and cornered by a student for taking away his smartphone sued the school district, claiming it blacklisted her for opening up to news media about the assault.
Candice Egan filed a free speech and due process lawsuit against St. Paul Public Schools District 625 on Thursday in Minnesota federal court. Carlondrea Hines, principal of Creative Arts Secondary High School, and Valeria Silva, superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, are also named as defendants.
Egan, who is in her 60s, says she got a substitute teaching job at Creative Arts Secondary after she applied for the position at St. Paul Public Schools through her employer, nonparty Teachers on Call, an employment agency for subs.
On March 22, 2016, Egan says she was scheduled to teach 7th grade science at Creative Arts Secondary. Before she began her sixth period class, Egan claims she was told by staff that this particular class was difficult but was not given any instructions on handling disruptions during class.
Once class began, the classroom became so disruptive that a teaching assistant took some of the students to the principal's office, according to the lawsuit. Egan says the condition of the classroom did not improve while the teaching assistant was gone.
Egan claims she called the administrative office and asked for help to deal with the students, as she was told to do, but when help arrived, the staff member left almost immediately.
According to the complaint, Egan placed two more calls to the administrative office asking for help while the classroom remained chaotic and disruptive.
But Egan says the situation quickly went from ugly to downright scary when she confiscated her student C.G.’s smartphone after he continued to use it despite being told to put it away.
C.G. immediately became angry and shouted, "Give me my phone, you f***ing b****," before shoving Egan backwards into a window, according to the complaint.
"CG continued this assault for some time, shoving plaintiff whenever she regained balance and repeating his demand for the phone," the complaint states.
Egan says she was "hurt, alarmed, and frightened" and called for help to the other students, but they said they could not help.
She tried to call the office again, but C.G. hung up the phone whenever she started dialing, according to the lawsuit.
"Eventually, plaintiff called out to a teacher in the hall, saying that she had been assaulted and needed help. Soon afterwards, plaintiff's teaching assistant returned to the room. Plaintiff told her what happened, and the teaching assistant left once again to go to the office with CG," the complaint states.
Egan filed an injury report with the school and told Principal Hines about the assault later that day, she says.
The substitute teacher says she also called Teachers on Call and reported the incident, and spoke with its human resources department about the assault.
On March 23, Egan was told that C.G. had been suspended, and that same day Michael Braddock from the security and emergency department of St. Paul Public Schools called Egan to discuss the assault.
Braddock suggested filing a police report to help create a "paper trail" for C.G., according to the complaint, and Egan did so the next day.
Egan says she was then contacted by a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press and was asked to talk about the incident. She agreed to give an interview because she "decided that the assault, and violence in Saint Paul schools generally, was an important issue to tell the public about,” the complaint states.
After the St. Paul Pioneer Press article was published, Egan gave interviews to three other media outlets, according to the lawsuit.
Thereafter, Egan says Teachers on Call immediately stopped placing her in positions at St. Paul Public Schools and removed her from any teaching jobs already scheduled in the school district, allegedly saying the district had given it "directives" on how to move forward.
According to the complaint, Teachers on Call wrote an incident report concerning Egan's "blacklisting" from St. Paul Public Schools and stated, "Candice has been removed from the SPPS substitute pool for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year. The district is seeking some space after perceiving that recent media spotlight was inappropriate."
St. Paul Public Schools said it does not comment on pending litigation
A few months before Egan's assault and one week after the assault of another teacher at Central High School in St. Paul, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers issued a statement from its president, Denise Rodriguez, on "school climate."
"This year has been marked by too many instances of assaults on students, teachers, and other staff members in the halls and classrooms of our schools,” Rodriguez said. “We will not wait any longer for action by our district’s administrators.”
She added, “Instead of empowering teachers and parents and acting now, leadership at the Saint Paul Public Schools has decided to create a committee and a new department to study the problem of school safety…Instead of moving supports into buildings, another layer of bureaucracy is going to study the problem.”
Rodriguez said the union has filed a petition for state mediation.
In 2015, 28 students were charged with fourth-degree assault, the most since 2010, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. Fourteen students were charged with fourth-degree assault in 2014 compared to 23 students in 2013.