Retired teacher sues Rowan-Salisbury Schools

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — A retired teacher has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom and Assistant Superintendent Delores Morris.
Kathy Watson, who worked in the district for a decade before retiring in July, claims the defendants’ actions caused her pain and suffering as well as lost wages. She is asking for in excess of $10,000 in damages.
Watson said the suit stems from a letter written by teacher assistant Penny Hargett to Bostian Principal Lisa Sigmon in May 2010.
“It is full of things that are just not true,” she told the Post in a phone interview Tuesday.
The letter includes statements that Watson “never had adequate lessons plans for me to follow,” “many times students were given a prompt to write about during the hour with no guidance or help” and “movies have been watched many times for her to work or catch up on grade level responsibilities lasting for two or three days of class instructions.”
Watson said those statements are false.
Watson received a letter from Morris on July 22, saying the letter would be placed in her personnel file in accordance with a state law that requires school systems maintain a personnel files for each teacher that contains any complaint, commendation or suggestion for correction or improvement about the teacher’s professional conduct.
The general statute states the superintendent may elect not to place a letter of compliant in a the file if it contains invalid, irrelevant, outdated or false information.
Watson said she filed a letter of rebuttal with the school system because she believed the letter written by Hargett contained false information, but her request was denied and the letter was not removed.
She maintains that the letter should never have been placed in her file in the first place because it was not signed by Hargett.
The law states “the complaint, commendation, or suggestion shall be signed by the person who makes it and shall be placed in the teacher’s file only after five days’ notice to the teacher.”
Watson said she decided to file the lawsuit last week after going through the grievance process and before the school board with not results.
“Originally the only thing I wanted was to have the letter that was written taken out of my file,” she said. “I really wish it could have been resolved earlier, I’ve tried everything I could and it’s like they’ve turned deaf ears.”
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Watson said she is seeking damages in excess of $10,000 to make up for lost wages and medical issues.
She said she planned to continue teaching until at least February 2012 when she turns 62 and is able to draw Social Security. She opted to retire after this year because of the “mental and physical” stress she says she’s undergone since Hargett wrote the letter in May 2010.
“I didn’t feel like I could deal with things any longer,” she said.
Watson said she taught second grade for seven years and third grade for two at Bostian. She was transferred to Faith Elementary last year and placed in first grade.
“It was very difficult for me because I was in a new environment teaching a different grade level,” she said.
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Watson filed personal lawsuits against Hargett and Sigmon in Cabarrus County last year.
She said she was surprised to find out the school system’s Raleigh-based attorney Christine Scheef of Tharrington Smith was representing the women in the case.
Watson’s son, Johnathan, requested information about why the school board was providing an attorney for Hargett and Sigmon in a personal lawsuit.
In a letter to Johnathan Watson, Scheef said Montgomery Insurance, the school systems’ insurance provider, determined that the board’s policy provide coverage to the women based on allegations that arose while they were acting in their capacity as employees.
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A Post reporter called both Grissom and Morris Tuesday afternoon for comment.
Rita Foil, the school system’s public information officer, referred comment about the case to the district’s attorney. A Post reporter left multiple messages with Scheef’s office Tuesday afternoon, but did not receive a call back.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.