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Penns Valley School District

Penns Valley School District - HARMS Children and Teachers!

The following is a legal brief filed on behalf of former teacher Mary Anne Norris. Lots of Discrimination and Special Education Horrors!


In the late fall of 1846 a party of settlers bound for California attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada Range near what is now Reno, Nevada. Records indicate that they were led by individuals who had some, but not a lot of experience in leading expeditions. Despite numerous warnings of the inappropriateness of their actions and many opportunities to regroup, the leaders pushed on to infamy. In the late summer of 1997, the Penns Valley School District had a new Superintendent, a new Principal, and a new Director of Special Education. Together they embarked on a course of conduct that has brought them derision, disgust, and declension.

Mary Anne Norris arrived at Penns Valley before her supervisor/accusers. Her husband had been employed by the school for some time prior to her hire. By all accounts an excellent, indeed exceptional teacher of special needs students, she quickly ascertained that the program was an educational morass, a backwater of neglected students coupled with inadequate supplies and staff. She and others did not let the plight of these students go unchallenged. A parental action group led by Donna Johnson was formed. Their crusade led to a number of things, one of them was the attempted suspension of Mary Anne Norris, a most unintended result.

While the parents group was busy filing charges, the School Administration reacted like most bureaucrats under siege, they circled the wagons. Any individual who sided with the parents cause was suspect. Indeed according to testimony, there was a standing order to stonewall the parents. Mary Anne Norris felt that she should assist the parents as they were all working toward a common goal, the best possible education for special needs children.

A State investigation brought about by the outcries of the parents found the School District to be sadly lacking and ordered numerous changes which were ignored by the District. Instead the School Board decided new leaders were in order and hired B. Alan Schoonover as wagon master.

Large of stature and extremely self-assured, yet possessing a slight stutter, a human frailty which exhibits itself under stress, B. Alan Schoonover was to be the answer to all the District's problems. So good was he that the previous leader was given a tidy severance package and permitted to explore other interests and challenges. Meetings with all his troops he promised a whole new approach. And he probably believed it when he said it. Mary Anne Norris went to a meeting with him armed with a long list of problems including discrimination suffered by anyone in her department. Problems that the State Audit(s) and the parents had identified and other problems with teachers resisting her efforts to get an equal education for her students. She left this list with Mr. Schoonover and came away hoping the new leadership would be beneficial.

The Superintendent was able to persuade a colleague to come out of retirement to address some of the deficiencies in the Special Education Program. Mr. Lent did what he could in a short time but left Mary Anne know she should watch her back. He also wrote a letter to present administration indicating that Mary Anne was a great teacher. He was replaced by Bobbi Jo Wakefield in her first appearance as the Director of Special Education. Joining her was a new elementary principal, Marsha Sackash.

The academic year 1997-1998 began with more than the usual chaos in the Special Education Department. Mary Anne was given for a new program she was instructed to implement. But she was blessed with 2 aides, Sharon Frazier, who was a personal care aide assigned to one student (despite Mary Anne's opinion that no aide was needed for this student); and Peg Hansen who had been her classroom aide in the past but was soon assigned to the infamous Student X, an autistic child who's records show he needed a full-time aide. The fact that Peg Hansen and Sharon Frazier did not get along made everyone's life miserable. To make matters worse Mary Anne was going through a period of estrangement from her husband (they have since reconciled). Had the special education received its usual attention from the administration, everyone would have yawned and the internecine squabbling would have ultimately abated. Unfortunately, with 2 new supervisor's, a state non-compliance audit, and Mary Anne previously appearing on the administration's short list of teachers who had assisted in bringing undue attention upon the program, the chain of silly events and administrative overreaction began with a vengeance.

Because Mary Anne was under the watchful eye of the new supervision, and because Sharon Frazier was passing on whatever gossip she could about Peg Hansen, the administration noted a number of picayune problems that later turned into a totally ridiculous charge letter against Mary Anne. The offenses included, seeing a doctor the same day she was in court and getting into a bureaucratic run around about the nature of the visit and the appropriateness of the paperwork; having her husband throw a hissy fit when one of their canceled checks was left in the Xerox machine. This episode was called disruptive. He was not chastised for being juvenile, she was chastised for using the machine for personal use. Go figure. One page. Probably the only time that has ever occurred at the school.

She also got written up for having glass jars, a glue gun, and big scissors in the classroom. Quite likely the administration's counsel will go on at great lengths about how horrible this was. The inescapable fact remains that Mrs. Norris has the most challenged students in the School District and yet the best safety record. No other teacher has ever been suspended for a safety violation.

She was also accused of being unprepared for one meeting. Upon more detailed inspection of the testimony of Mrs. Wakefield it develops that Mary Anne was vigorously advocating a method of dealing with Student X. It would appear that being one of three monkeys is a prerequisite for employment at Penns Valley.

But the problem that gave rise to the suspension was one which Mary Anne did not directly observe, and even if she had, was not of the magnitude that the Administration would have the School Board believe. Student X had his hand tapped by Peg Hansen in an effort to dissuade him from conduct she deemed inappropriate, i.e. throwing a computer keyboard. This was a tap and noting more. And not done or seen by Mary Anne.

Notwithstanding the fact that no one has testified that Mrs. Norris touched anyone, the Administration charged her with tapping student x or striking students, even calling it abuse. To further add insult to injury, Sharon Frazier who began the conflagration when she complained about Peg Hansen's treatment of Student X to Mrs. Wakefield, obtained by ransacking boxes left behind when Mrs. Norris was escorted from the building by Administration, some of Mrs. Norris' therapy records (she has been treated for depression). Also in the box was information about the Norris' financial status (they owe money, they borrow money). The jungle telegraph was active and Mrs. Frazier, unchecked by Administration was a rumor mill par excellence.

Although the Administration denies utilizing the information obtained in the box, this is most suspect when one considers that this is the first time in 39 years that the administration has ever attempted to get doctor's records concerning an appointment. Their denials are even more suspect, albeit made in front of a large audience, when counsel for Mrs. Norris has obtained statements of individuals that President Kohler advised then the reason they went looking at the doctor's records was that they expected to find evidence that Mrs. Norris was teaching under the influence of enough drugs to tranquilize a horse. (She wasn't taking any.)

And, did we mention that Mary Anne has the highest rating for a teacher? That no parent ever, including parents of Student X, has ever complained about Mary Anne.

The Administration overreacted. The School Board should acknowledge this fact. Dismissal of Mrs. Norris is not supported by the evidence or the law. A lawsuit has now been filed to compensate Mrs. Norris for the egregious violation of her rights. To dismiss her would add a significant number of zero's to what is already an educational tragedy.

BY: [name redacted], ESQUIRE

Epilogue: I fired the attorney who wrote the brief because I was being forced into a settlement. I didn't want to settle, I wanted reinstatement because I thought I wanted and could teach again. When I did not settle, the school board voted to dismiss me in July. The whole case was covered in the newspaper and the media. Another a attorney appealed my case to the PDE who immediately wanted to hear it. They only hear 1:1000 cases. Our appeal was based on the faulty record of my first attorney as well as new charges of collusion and conspiracy on the part of School Board Members. We had the testimony of a school board member. With this, there was an immediate rush and intense pressure for me to settle. In the end I had to settle because I ran out of money to go any further. Total cost: over $37,000. Despite a clause in the settlement agreement, the District made 2 complaints to PDE against my certificate. The state won't let me see the complaints even though I successfully defended them. No one else will hire me. Mary Anne Norris