COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
A former Columbia Public School teacher alleges in a newly filed lawsuit that she was "forced out" of the district for taking and sharing photos of rooms used to isolate students at the district's school for children with special educational needs.
Angela Jolley was a special education employee at CPS for several years. In 2019, she took photos of isolation rooms used at the district's "CORE" building and shared them with the media.
The CORE building houses programs for disabled and students with special educational needs.
"I remember the secretary saying, 'don't go in there more than once, you wont sleep at night.' I could not just sit by anymore and watch this happening," Jolley said.
Jolley says in her lawsuit that she shared the photos out of concern the rooms were hurting students and violating district policy, which only allows isolating students if they are a danger to themselves or others.
Jolley claims students as young as kindergarten were confined in the rooms.
"There were situations where children were crying and screaming. There where situations where students were being secluded and the smell of urine could be detected," Jolley said.
The lawsuit says students were placed in 4 feet by 6 feet boxes made of plywood when they acted out.
Jolley's attorney Doug Mann said this all started when the district was facing staffing issues in 2019.
"Instead of hiring on more teachers CPS decided to hire a new contractor. The use of unnecessary isolation and seclusion came along with the independent contractor," Mann said.
The contractor known as "SESI" provided services to K-5 students at CORE.
Jolley alleges from the moment she told CPS she took the photos, she was moved from one job to another within the district. Jolley said the environment was so hostile she felt forced to resign last summer.
Jolley said tried to take every avenue of reporting the treatment of students to the administration but when no one would listen she felt like she had no choice but to go to the media.
When asked for comment Tuesday, CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the district hasn't seen the lawsuit yet.
"We cannot comment specifically on pending or on-going litigation, however the district is confident in its employment decisions and intends to vigorously defend itself," she said in a statement.