A former social worker is suing the Springfield School District after she was fired for blowing the whistle on alleged abuses.
The Springfield School District recently came under fire in a lawsuit alleging the school board fired a social worker shortly after she “blew the whistle on abuses at the Edward V. Walton Early Childhood Center.” Kara King, the whistleblower, filed the suit in Superior Court in Elizabeth last month, and names the Springfield Board of Education, former Springfield Superintendent Michael Davino and former Walton School Principal Adriana Coppola as defendants. When commenting on the suit, Heidi Weintraub, King’s attorney, said:
“This is one of the most egregious cases of retaliatory discharge of a district-wide social worker who paid a hefty price, the loss of her job, healthcare benefits for her and her family as well as her dignity and reputation when she blew the whistle on what she in good faith and reasonably believed to be unlawful conduct on behalf of her superiors.”
Before her termination, King worked for the district from April 2015 to May 2020. During her time at Walton School, King allegedly witnessed “Coppola physically and emotionally abusing students in violation of their civil rights.” Additionally, Coppola also “made dismissive and discriminatory comments about special-needs students, saying among other things that they were ‘so gross’ and that she ‘had to sanitize her hands after being around them.’” In total, the suit details out 46 different incidents that King claims are “evidence of Coppola’s unlawful and/or inappropriate conduct toward the District’s students and staff.”
In one of those incidents, Coppola allegedly, “grabbed the arm of a special needs student who suffered from anxiety and dragged him into the hallway causing the student to cry.”
In another, King allegedly said Coppola was “yelling at autistic students and on one occasion, grabbing the wrist of a pre-schooler with autism and saying ‘I am speaking to you, you will look at me when I am speaking to you.’”
As if that’s not bad enough, King allegedly witnessed Coppolo “abuse her authority by directing subordinates to review her niece’s out-of-district Individual Education Program during school hours and telling an elementary school teacher at a staff holiday party that if she stole the centerpieces, which were owned by the catering restaurant, and gave them to her, she would give her a higher score on her teacher’s evaluation.”
When King took her complaints to the former superintendent Davino, she felt they went ignored. Then, shortly after the meeting, Coppola began retaliating against her in a variety of ways, including “restricting her ability to attend meetings at other district schools and outside of the district,” according to the suit.
King then ended up blowing the whistle a second time on an “unethical successful effort by the district to obtain a parent’s signature for testing and evaluation without the Child Study Team present, which is unlawful.” After that, King claims the district began working to fire her, and when she was eventually fired, it was without due process. King argues there was “no public notice of the proposed action item to terminate King’s contract until the day of the meeting itself, when the board agenda was released nor was King sent a formal Rice notice, which is a legally required document that notifies public employees that their employment status is to be discussed.”
When commenting on the suit, Weintraub said:
“The Firm of Javerbaum, Wurgaft, Hicks, Kahn, Wikstrom & Sinins has filed this lawsuit to vindicate her rights and to hopefully return her to a job that she loved and through which she enriched the lives of the students in the Springfield School District.”