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A speech pathologist is suing administrators at Walthill Public Schools and the Educational Service Unit that supports it, alleging they created a hostile work environment and violated her free speech rights after she filed a complaint against them.

The lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court by Kerri Mohnsen, the former Walthill speech pathologist, is the latest move in an ongoing controversy in the small northeast Nebraska school district over special-education services that included heated school board meetings, an investigation by the Nebraska Department of Education and a petition filed against the license of the former superintendent.

The lawsuit was filed against the school district; Educational Service Unit No. 1; Stuart Clark, the ESU special-education director; William Heimann, ESU director; and Edward Stansberry, former Walthill superintendent.

The problems in the district that serves primarily Native students began less than two months after Mohnsen started working there Aug. 1, 2017.

That's when she reported to Clark, her supervisor, that the district was violating state education laws and rules regarding special-education students and was misappropriating special-education funds and those designated for Native students.

Clark took no action, so she and another school employee filed a complaint with the Nebraska Department of Education. Mohnsen also filed complaints with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Education, according to the lawsuit.

On March 15, 2018, the Nebraska Department of Education issued a report based on its investigation that found numerous violations by the school district, according to the lawsuit. Those included that the school district hadn’t provided special-education services to some students with disabilities, that it took state and federal special-education funds without providing services and didn’t follow various procedures for working with special-education students.

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Stansberry, the superintendent, resigned after the education department’s investigation and was hired by the ESU, according to the lawsuit. Then, in April, the Nebraska Department of Education filed a petition against him alleging various violations related to the investigative findings, the lawsuit said.

Mohnsen alleges that Clark punished her for making the complaints and did whatever he could to force her to resign. Other officials did nothing to stop the retaliation.

Clark frequently came to the school and yelled at Mohnsen, belittled and humiliated her, and gave her unwarranted poor performance evaluations, the lawsuit says.

In May 2018, Clark allegedly came to Mohnsen’s class and demanded in front of her students that she move out of her classroom two days before the end of school.

The next school year, the lawsuit claims, Mohnsen was assigned to a basement office in a South Sioux City school where she was isolated from her coworkers and prohibited from working regularly with students.

She alleges the district and ESU violated her free speech rights, her rights under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act, as well as other constitutional protections and she seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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