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Willmar mother appeals ruling in case against son's special education teacher

WILLMAR -- A federal lawsuit against the Willmar School District isn't finished yet.

An attorney for a former Willmar student has asked the entire Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear arguments about whether the child may sue the district.

A three-judge panel said in January that Jackie Nelson, the child's mother, did not have a valid claim against the school district.

The judges said that Nelson should have filed a complaint before she transferred her child to another district. Since she complained later, she no longer had a valid claim to seek compensatory educational services for her child, according to the panel's opinion filed in January.

In the suit Nelson had alleged that special education teacher Lisa Van Der Heiden used a seclusion room and restraining holds excessively while the child was a student at Lincoln Elementary School in Willmar. She also alleged that school officials knew about the treatment and did not stop it.

Attorneys for Van Der Heiden and the school district have consistently denied that any wrongdoing occurred and have said the child's individual education plan was followed in the use of restraints and seclusion.

In the request filed Monday, Nelson's attorney Margaret O'Sullivan Kane asked that the entire court hear the case because of its potential impact on children with disabilities and their access to the courts.

In previous decisions, the federal district court and appeals court have said the family should have exhausted all administrative hearings before filing suit. However, an administrative hearing was denied because Nelson did not file a complaint before removing her child from the district.

Kane says Nelson did express her objections to her child's situation in the school, but the courts have found that it fell short of the formal complaint that would have been needed.

Van Der Heiden has also been investigated by the state for several maltreatment allegations. In the case of Nelson's child, she recently won an appeal of a state maltreatment finding.

The state Board of Teaching has been monitoring her teaching performance for two years.

The monitoring is to conclude this month.