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Truman schools settle suit

May 10, 2011
Kylie Saari , Fairmont Sentinel

TRUMAN - A lawsuit brewing against Truman public schools since 2009 was settled Monday night, when the school board approved conditions in a special meeting.

Val Wilcox-Pesta, a former paraprofessional with the district, alleged her termination in July 2009 was a retaliatory act, and that she was punished for being a whistle-blower.

The settlement pays Wilcox-Pesta $80,000 in exchange for dropping her suit against the district.

Truman's current superintendent Tom Ames, who was not with the district during the time period indicated in the lawsuit, says the district will pay out $3,122 of the full amount, with $37,625 paid to Wilcox-Pesta by the district's insurance carrier. The remainder of the settlement amount, $39,253, will be paid by the insurance carrier to Wilcox-Pesta's attorney firm, Warner Law Office.

According to Wilcox-Pesta's original court filing:

In early May 2008, she found marijuana and a pipe in the pocket of her son's jeans. He told her he had purchased the drugs from the son of Truman principal Brian Shanks and the pipe from another student on school property.

Wilcox-Pesta met with Shanks the same day and told him of the allegations her son made. She says Shanks asked to keep the drugs and pipe.

The evidence was brought by Shanks and then Superintendent John Larson to the Martin County Sheriff's Department 10 days later. Wilcox-Pesta says Shanks refused to discuss with investigators the students involved in the drug sale.

During those 10 days, Wilcox-Pesta said Shanks told her his son denied the allegations. Wilcox-Pesta also met with Larson. She says he told her the allegations were "hearsay," and "the best thing that could happen is if this situation and the marijuana would just go away."

Wilcox-Pesta, angered by what she considered a lack of concern by administrators and a lack of discipline for the children involved in the drug deal, began contacting state officials and the Minnesota Board of School Administrators. She also wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Truman Tribune. In it, she outlined her concerns about the administrators.

In June 2008, Wilcox-Pesta says she was reassigned to a substantially more difficult job, a move she opposed. She was told she would lose her job if she refused the assignment.

The following July, Wilcox-Pesta was notified her position had been terminated because of a lack of pupils, lack of an assignment and financial limitations.

Wilcox-Pesta says two special education paraprofessionals have been hired since her termination, and neither position was advertised.

Ames says he did offer to interview Wilcox-Pesta before the current school year, but she declined to be interviewed.

The settlement agreement has no admission of guilt by the school district, Shanks, or the Larson estate.

Wilcox-Pesta was not available for comment.



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