A substitute teacher alleges in a lawsuit that St. Paul Public Schools banned her from working in the district after she spoke out about being assaulted by one of its students.
Candice Egan is suing the district, former Superintendent Valeria Silva and Principal Carlondrea Hines in federal court, alleging that they neglected to prevent the attack and that they violated her right to free speech and due process.
“[St. Paul Public Schools] could have and should have prevented Plaintiff’s injuries by properly supervising its premises and students and/or providing Plaintiff with adequate resources to prevent violence within the classroom,” said Egan’s lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 22.
Egan’s suit is seeking an unspecified monetary reward, including attorneys’ fees and costs, and the right to work in the district again, or, alternately, “front pay and the monetary value of working for the district.”
The suit said she suffered serious injuries after being pushed by a student when she confiscated his cellphone, and that the district should have known of the risk to teachers given previous assaults and warnings from a teacher’s union.
Jerry Skelly, a district spokesman, said Wednesday that the district would not comment on pending legal matters.
Ramsey County attorney spokesman Dennis Gehardstein said the 12-year-old student who assaulted Egan pleaded guilty in May to one count of fourth-degree assault.
According to the suit: Egan was working at Creative Arts Secondary School on March 22 when she was warned by staff that the sixth period class was particularly difficult, and that she should call the main office if there were disruptions. A teaching assistant left to take some students to the principal’s office for being disruptive, leaving Egan alone.
Egan called the office three times for help dealing with the remaining students, who continued to be disruptive. The first time, a staff member arrived but “left almost immediately.” The second time, she was told someone would be sent to the class. That person didn’t show up before her third call a few minutes later, which went to voice mail.
Egan saw a seventh-grade student on a cellphone despite earlier instructions to abstain from phone usage. She confiscated the phone, and the student fought back verbally and physically.
“Give me my phone, you [expletive] [expletive],” the student allegedly said.
The student shoved Egan backward into a window and “continued this assault for some time,” the suit said.
“Plaintiff was hurt, alarmed, and frightened, and she called for help to the other students,” the suit said. “The other students said they could not help her. Plaintiff attempted to call the office, but [the student] hung up the phone whenever she started dialing.”
Egan eventually called out for help to a teacher in the hall, and the teaching assistant returned to the class.
At the recommendation of district staff, Egan filed a police report on March 24. Soon after, she gave interviews to local newspaper, TV and radio outlets about the assault.
Egan was working at Johnson Senior High School on March 28 when the school’s principal asked her to extend her eight-day assignment to 15 days. The next day, according to the suit, Egan received a message from Teachers on Call (TOC), the agency that placed her in substitute jobs, saying that the school district was concerned that none of its staff was involved in the assault, and that the district wanted to stop using her as a substitute teacher.
The suit said that TOC wrote this report about the exchange: “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.”
Egan’s suit said that before the assault, she “regularly received positive feedback from students and co-workers at SPPS schools,” and worked frequently in the district.
In an interview with the Star Tribune earlier this year, district spokesman Ryan Vernosh said, “There are various reasons why substitutes may not be asked to work for the district. Talking to the media is not one of them.”
Egan’s suit alleges that the district blacklisted her because her story was “embarrassing” to the district given other student-on-teacher assaults that had also received widespread media coverage. In December 2015, her suit said, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers issued a statement on “School Climate” that threatened a teacher’s strike if the district didn’t work to stop assaults on students, teachers and staff.
Egan, a retired teacher, had been subbing in St. Paul schools for three years, working primarily at Harding Senior High School, Johnson Senior High School, Adams Spanish Immersion and Farnsworth Aerospace Upper Campus.
“I subbed pretty much full time, and it was fabulous,” Egan said earlier this year. “I love those schools, I love those kids.”