Regional News in Review – January 2015

  Reforms sought in mistreatment Allegations of mistreatment of students with disabilities at the L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion school […]

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Reforms sought in mistreatment

Allegations of mistreatment of students with disabilities at the L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion school led to a federal investigation and a series of reforms. St. Paul Public Schools agreed to the changes in December, in the wake of a U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation that began in 2012.

Parent Cherste Eidman had filed a complaint over the treatment of her daughter, who has obsessive compulsive disorder and ADHD, stating that former principal, Fatima Lawson, made the school a hostile environment. Eidman said the treatment of her daughter grew worse after she complained about it. Ten other families supported the claim. Lawson would deliberately block parents’ requests for individualized education plans or other special education plans for their children or fail to share those documents with school staff. Families also claimed Lawson retaliated against those who asked for special services. Children were bullied and parents were told to enroll their children elsewhere.

Lawson left her position after the past school year. She now oversees the district’s alternative learning programs. In a statement to the Pioneer Press, she denied the allegations and defended her work. St. Paul Public Schools has agreed to issue an anti-harassment statement related to students with disabilities, and update district policies and procedures to ensure they address claims of anti-disabilities discrimination and harassment. L’Etoile du Nord staff will be trained annually on the practices and how to refrain from harassing students. The district will conduct annual climate surveys at the school and will create a task force of parents and teachers to monitor special education at the school. Some measures are in place, according to school district officials and others are being developed.

Lawson was the focus of complaints during her tenure at the school, including one 400-page complaint. It detailed clashes with the parent-teacher organization, discrimination against students with disabilities and severe bullying that went unaddressed.

The Office of Civil Rights has opened five cases involving L’Etoile du Nord since 2010. One remains active. State officials have also had to get involved. (Source: Pioneer Press)




Allegations made against cab drivers

A Twin Cities man with disabilities said five different cab drivers refused to take drive him home after a December birthday party celebration at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in St. Louis Park. Mike Cohn, who enjoys live music and dancing, is a regular at the bar. “I go there a lot to see bands and dance,” he told WCCO-TV.

Around midnight he walked to the taxi stand, ready to take the 1.5 mile trip home. After more than two hours he wound up getting a ride home from a bouncer. The first cab driver tried to charge him $20, including a fee for his walker. The second driver ignored his request for a ride.

“Didn’t even try to help me at all,” Cohn said. He asked for help but the driver wouldn’t respond to Cohn or Shawn Johnson, the head of security at Toby Keith’s. “I knocked on his window and the guy wouldn’t even look at me. He knew I was there, knew I worked here and wouldn’t even face me,” Johnson said.

Three more drivers, all from Blue and White Taxi, turned him down. Johnson said the experience was upsetting.

Cohn’s cousin Suzie Buchkoski is Cohn’s personal care assistant. She was shocked at how he was treated. “Nobody should be treated that way. All he was trying to do was to get home just like anybody else,” Buchkoski said.

Blue and White will determine who refused service. Jeremy Kramer of the cab company said in the four years he’s been at Blue and White, he’s never heard a complaint of something like this before. The company employs 300 drivers.

Federal law states that taxi drivers can’t charge additional fees for the storage of a walker or wheelchair, and drivers can’t deny a ride based on a disability. (Source: WCCO-TV)




Worker receives $65,000 after discrimination

An Alexandria municipal utility company will pay a disabled former employee $65,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit. Richard Hinrichs was an IT specialist for Alexandria Light and Power. He claims the harassment began shortly after he had his leg amputated in 2010.

“It was about a month after that that my boss came in with a new job description and he required me to climb ladders, lift 50 pounds and crawl under tight spaces.” Hinrichs said his job prior to 2010 involved very little physical labor. He was fired a few months after going back to work. Hinrichs then filed a discrimination lawsuit with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

There didn’t seem to be a legitimate reason for the employer to make such changes,” said Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. Lindsey said that since his appointment in 2011, he has steadily increased the number of discrimination complaints his office handles.

About 900 investigations were completed in 2014.

Under the terms of the settlement, he will receive $65,000 but Alexandria Light and Power will still not admit any wrongdoing. Hinrichs is sharing his story to encourage more employees who have been treated unfairly to come forward.  (Source: Associated Press)




Settlement reached with McDonald’s

A Minneapolis man who claimed that a McDonald’s restaurant resisted providing service has had a lawsuit settled out of court. Robert Mingo had claimed the north Minneapolis restaurant refused him service in 2012 because he had his service dog, Max, with him.

Mingo, who uses a wheelchair, then went to the drive-through window and was refused service there.

An employee reportedly said, “We don’t serve those things in the drive-through.” Mingo eventually got food in the restaurant that day but was banned from coming back. He returned in May 2013, ordered and was served food, but was then told by the manager to leave and not come back. That staffer said, “I am the manager and I am the law.”

The settlement is confidential but Mingo said he is satisfied with it. An attorney for McDonald’s said the settlement states that the agreement does include some requirements that all customers, whether or not they have service animals, will be welcomed, and that there are not future misunderstandings. Mingo also spoke to the restaurant owner and was satisfied with his response. Federal law requires the restaurant to allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities. (Source: Star Tribune)




Hospital hires new director

A new medical director is on board at the Minnesota Security hospital in St. Peter. Dr. Kylee Ann Stevens, who led the turnaround of a once-troubled facility in Washington, D.C., is expected to make significant changes at the facility in St. Peter.

Stevens is now medical director of a facility that has seen its share of problems, including violence, lapses in patient care, high leadership turnover and demoralized staff. She was part of team that turned St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. into a national model of innovative psychiatric care. At the

Minnesota facility, Stevens is expected to continue a number of measures that are already underway.

These include more of a focus on patient-centered care, and continued efforts to reduce use of restraints and seclusion. The appointment comes as the Minnesota Department of Human Services launches a widespread reorganization of state services for people who are vulnerable.

The department announced plans in December to create a new division to oversee services for people with disabilities and mental illness, as well as services related to alcohol and drug abuse. The new division will be led by Jennifer DeCubellis, a Hennepin County administrator with a strong background of integrated medical and behavioral health care combined with social services. (Source: Star Tribune)



Four charged with bilking state programs

Four people have been charged with bilking the state out of about $4 million, by falsifying records at a home health care and child care businesses. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filed 96 felony charges in mid-December. Charged are Yasmin A. Ali, 33, of Fridley; Joshua J. Miller, 31, of St. Paul; Ahmed A. Mohamed, 46, of Fridley and Jordan C. Smith, 31, of Cottage Grove. Ali and Mohamed are married. The attorney’s office describes the crimes as a “massive” benefits scheme.

The alleged fraud is the largest ever in the state’s child case assistance program, according to Minnesota

Department of Human Services officials. The scheme took two years to investigate. The four face counts including theft by swindle, racketeering, filing false tax returns and concealing criminal proceeds.

From 2009 to 2012 Ali, Mohamed and Miller owned a group of businesses including a home health care business and child care businesses. They collected $500,000 from the state for a business called All Nations Home Health Care by allegedly submitting false claims for personal care assistant work. Smith is alleged to have filed false claims for personal care assistant work at Miller’s direction.

Court appearances for the four began last month in Ramsey County District court. (Source: Pioneer Press)



Assisted care administrator faces charges

An administrator at an assisted care facility faces charges of stealing medication from facility residents. Clinical administrator Kent Boldt was charged December 22 with theft at Farmstead, a facility in Andover.

The theft was discovered after an employee at the facility received an anonymous email. While Boldt wasn’t involved in residents’ care he was involved with the distribution and logging of narcotics for residents. He was suspended from work last year pending an internal investigation after claims were made that medications he ordered for residents never were given to them. He resigned during the internal investigation.

Numerous prescription medications were found behind file cabinets and under baseboard heaters after Boldt resigned.  (Source: Star Tribune)



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