HARVARD – A former District 50 school psychologist has sued two district administrators, seven current or former school board members, and an Illinois State Board of Education consultant, alleging harassment and defamation.
Peter Koehn alleges the 10 defendants harassed and defamed him and made him the subject of “adverse employment actions.”
Koehn was fired in January 2011, a few months after he was the catalyst of an Office of Civil Rights investigation into whether school administrators changed the individualized education plans of special education students without approval from the students’ parents or special education teachers.
Koehn, who filed the suit without an attorney, alleges that the defendants – which include Superintendent Lauri Tobias, Harvard Junior High School Principal Margaret Segerston and ISBE Consultant Julie Evans – took actions to limit Koehn’s right to free speech.
In the months after his speaking up about student IEPs, Koehn was given a series of tasks that lacked a clear objective, he said.
“They set it up so I couldn’t succeed,” Koehn said. “They told me to do something, but they wouldn’t define it. And if I asked for a definition, they called it insubordination.”
Koehn is asking for more than $1 million in damages from each defendant.
The Office of Civil Rights investigation ended in an agreement under which the district would hold meetings for students who had their classroom placements changed during the summer 2010 or during the 2010-11 school year as a result of an amendment to their IEPs.
Documents from the investigation, obtained by the Northwest Herald in the summer of 2011, showed that 21 students’ IEPs were changed in the fall of 2010. But the changes only amounted to a reduction in class time by about six minutes.
Koehn maintains the Office of Civil Rights didn’t stick around long enough to uncover the full story. He said some disabled students were pulled from smaller special education classes and put in a larger study hall where they received less individualized attention.
He said those changes were made months before any paperwork about them appeared in the children’s IEP folders. When he brought this to the attention of the board and Superintendent Tobias, he was assured the paperwork had been completed and nothing illegal had taken place, Koehn said.
“Plus there are forms filled out in November – four or five months after the placement changes – where they illegally changed the IEPs to match the placement changes,” he said.
District 50 spokesman Bill Clow declined to respond to Koehn’s allegations. The district doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits, he said.
Koehn alleges that his mistreatment began in October 2010 and ran through February 2011. A second Office of Civil Rights investigation into whether Koehn was fired for being a whistle-blower still is ongoing, he said.
The lawsuit is scheduled to appear for a status hearing in a Rockford federal court Friday, Koehn said.