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Former Kentucky School for the Deaf teacher awarded $240K in whistleblower case

 The exterior of a stately old building.
Kentucky Department of Education
Kentucky Department of Education
The Kentucky School for the Deaf has served deaf and hard of hearing Kentuckians since 1823.

A KSD teacher says her contract was not renewed after she reported the school allegedly failed to comply with federal laws protecting students with disabilities.

A jury sided with a former teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in a whistleblower lawsuit this week. Jurors decided the school’s decision not to renew Deanna Glasser’s contract was retaliation for speaking out against discrimination at the school in 2019.

In her lawsuit, filed in 2019, Glasser said that during her time at KSD she spoke up about numerous problems at the school, including a lack of staff fluent in American Sign Language and failures to follow through on students’ Individualized Education Plans, as required by federal law.

“I hope that this verdict … sends a message to the [Kentucky Department of Education] … because they saw that the needs were not getting met,” Glasser told LPM News.

The KSD is a residential school in Danville for students in grades K-12 who are deaf or hard of hearing. Most students spend the week living on campus and return to their families on weekends.

Glasser alleged that over a period of two years, she reported several issues to leaders in the Kentucky Department of Education, which oversees the school. One of those problems, Glasser said in her lawsuit, was that too few adults were proficient in ASL, “which led to delay in students’ communications about student safety concerns and students’ social-emotional needs.”

Glasser also said principal Toyah Robey, who was not fluent in ASL, held meetings with deaf students and staff about behavioral issues and job duties without interpretation — a violation of federal laws protecting people with disabilities.

Robey was hired in 2017 and retired this summer.

In addition, Glasser alleges that 33 students went for more than three months in 2018 without the speech therapy services they were entitled to receive under federal law.

Glasser said she reported these issues to Robey and her superiors at KDE, but that they took no action to hold Robey accountable or address concerns about interpretation and student safety.

When Glasser’s contract was up for renewal at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, Robey did not sign Glasser back on, even though her performance reviews from previous years were “exemplary.”

Glasser moved to Utah, where she works in deaf education.

The Franklin County jury, which met at the end of June, awarded Glasser $240,000 in damages under Kentucky’s “Whistleblower Act,” which prohibits retaliation against employees who report suspected law violations, safety issues or abuses of authority.

“It’s not really about money,” Glasser told LPM News. “It’s about being accountable. It’s about, ‘What do we have to do before you listen?’”

A spokesperson for KDE did not respond to a request for comment by LPM’s deadline. A KDE spokesperson previously told the Lexington Herald-Leader they plan to appeal.

In court filings KDE officials deny all wrongdoing.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Glasser was not fired, rather that her contract was not renewed.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.