Wood school board settles special ed teacher's suit for $175K, sensitivity training

By Lawrence Smith | Mar 3, 2011

PARKERSBURG -– Along with payment of a cash settlement, the Wood County Board of Education has resolved a lawsuit with a special education teacher by agreeing to better train school administrators about handicap students.

The Board on Oct. 25 formally settled a three-count discrimination suit brought against it, and Brett Ubbens, principal at Greenmont Elementary in Vienna, by Nancy Thomas. In her suit filed in March 2009, Thomas alleged Ubbens during the 2007-08 school year, among other things, made callous comments about her work as a special education teacher, engaged in "inappropriate violent physical restraints" of students with behavioral disorders and did not permit her to have a planning period.

During that school year, Thomas worked half days at Greenmont, and Waverly Elementary School. In her suit, Thomas made claims against the Board, and Ubbens for not only age discrimination, but also two counts of handicap discrimination, one for perception of handicap and the other for associational discrimination.

In settling the suit, the Board agreed to pay Thomas $175,000. According to the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management, the Board's insurer, Thomas kept $112,349.80, and the remainder went to her attorney Walt Auvil.

Also, the Board agreed to have school administrators from school vice-principals up to the superintendant take additional special education training. The terms of the settlement stipulate administrators undergo a one-time sensitivity training session performed by an outside agency on the rights of special education students and their parents, and annual training conducted by the Board's director of special education on special education policies and procedures.

Furthermore, the Board agreed to prepare a flier informing parents about the "Citizens' Grievance and the Parent Resource Center" that is "to be sent home in the backpacks of all students in Wood County Schools." A copy of the flier, and the training materials are to be provided to Auvil.

According to BRIM, $96,692.16 was paid in legal expenses to defend the Board and Ubbens with the bulk, $81,012.55, going the Charleston law firm of Schuman, McCuskey and Slicer. Lou Ann Cyrus and Kimberly Bandy where listed in court records as the Board's attorneys.

Records show the Board's out-of-pocket expense in the suit was a $2,500 deductible.

Six months after filing her suit, Thomas, 67, ended her employment with Wood County Schools after 11 years of service. Records provided by the Board show she earned $34,454.64 her first year as a teacher, and was paid $4,930.20 her last nine months on the job.

Also, records show Ubbens, 37, started work as Greenmont's principal on July 17, 2007, earning a salary of $54,225. He currently earns $62,863.16.

Wood Circuit Court case number 09-C-153

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