ST. PAUL, MINN. — A Minnesota private school faces a whistleblower suit filed by two teachers who claim they were subjected to discrimination and retaliation when they raised concerns about an allegedly unsafe field trip to Thailand, wrongly claimed and misused federal funds for student lunches, and suspected cases of child abuse within the school.
According to the Pioneer Press, Megan Deutschman and Ana Panone filed the whistleblower lawsuit in Ramsey County, Minn., District Court this week against the Community School of Excellence, seeking unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees as well as injunctions that would change the school’s leadership, better protect the students, and prevent retaliation against staff for calling out wrongdoing.
The women allege that eighth-grade students, most of whom are of Hmong descent, were endangered on a school trip to Thailand last year, citing incidents in which students were allowed to take motorcycle rides with Thais after dark, roam without supervision and get lost, and visit areas near the Burmese border with a high risk of sex-trade kidnapping. Adult chaperones were ordered to share beds with students, too, the lawsuit alleges.
The plaintiffs also allege that the school’s founder and superintendent Mo Chang dismissed their claims as “Western thinking.”
Additionally, Ms. Deutschman and Ms. Panone say in their lawsuit that Mr. Chang and the school try to obstruct teachers from reporting cases of possible child abuse as required by Minnesota law. Teachers who sought to expose the abuse had their identities revealed to the alleged abusers, the lawsuit says, which generated “an atmosphere of fear” for teachers and students alike.
Both teachers reported suspected child abuse to law enforcement. Ms. Panone was subsequently fired, allegedly in retaliation for cooperating with authorities, and the school falsely cited Ms. Deutschman with unethical conduct and insubordination, the lawsuit says.
According to the Pioneer Press, the lawsuit also says that the school defamed the plaintiffs “by telling parents that white employees including Deutschman and Panone were attempting to destroy the school and deny Hmong a school environment that respected their culture.”
The Minnesota Department of Education and the St. Paul police have previously investigated allegations of child abuse at the school, according to the Pioneer Press.