Bend-La Pine sued by teacher

Claims center on retaliation for whistle-blowing

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

A Cascade Middle School teacher who has worked for Bend-La Pine Schools since 2004 is suing the district for nearly $1 million, saying she was retaliated against after complaining about illegal practices, including teacher-facilitated cheating on standardized tests.

Kim Mortenson, most recently a media studies teacher, filed the lawsuit May 28 in Deschutes County Circuit Court. Her claims stretch from the winter of 2008 to the end of the 2012-13 school year, centering on mistreatment she allegedly received after complaining the district was illegally using library-based media managers not licensed as teachers to deliver instruction.

Since then, Mortenson alleges she has received negative evaluations based on false reports, had her reputation slandered and suffered an injury due to the negligence of school administrators.

Bend-La Pine Schools Communications Director Julianne Repman said the district does not comment on pending litigation. Mortenson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mortenson’s claim begins in 2008, when she was informed she would be transferred from a library media specialist position to working as a half-time kindergarten teacher. After Mortenson saw school board member Nori Juba “on the local evening news talking about the need for technology instruction,” she claims she approached him to discuss why her previous position had been cut when she had been teaching a computer technology curriculum the previous four years.

According to Mortenson’s claim, Juba said the board voted to remove funding for a licensed media specialist position because such positions were backed by an unpopular school board member, and the rest of the board voted against that school board member “because they did not like him and did not want him on the school board,” the lawsuit states. Mortenson then filed a complaint with the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC), which later investigated whether unlicensed library staff were delivering instruction.

The lawsuit says the subsequent TSPC report, which found no unlicensed staff teaching in the district, was based on “misrepresentations” presented by the district to “cover up unlawful activity.”

The day after her meeting with Juba, Mortenson claims Bruce Reynolds, her then-principal at Jewell Elementary, told her there had been complaints against her, though he was unwilling to detail them. At the end of the meeting, Mortenson claims Reynolds said, “Good luck finding a job.” At a later meeting, Reynolds allegedly said Jewell staff “don’t like you and don’t want you here.” Mortenson said her evaluations after these encounters were poor despite her receiving positive evaluations before she spoke up.

The suit also claims that between 2006 and 2010 Mortenson discussed instances where staff “(sat) next to students while they were taking standardized tests online and helped them to choose the correct answers.” It does not specify with whom Mortenson discussed the cheating.

In 2010, Mortenson was transferred to a nonteaching classified position in the Cascade Middle School library. During her time there, she was tasked with inventorying more than 10,000 books, a task Mortenson argues should have been shared with other staff. This activity allegedly led to a thumb injury that required surgery and resulted in permanent damage.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for Oct. 28.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com