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Money Award to Teacher Upheld in Peoria Suit

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Peoria, Ill--The federal judge presiding in a suit brought against a school district here by a teacher who charged he was unlawfully penalized for speaking with school-board members has upheld the award of $514,333 in damages to the man.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm rejected a request by Peoria School District 150 that he set aside the judgment or grant a new trial in the case.

Calling the jury's award "preposterous," Julian Cannell, a lawyer for the school district, argued that the case should be heard again on the grounds that Judge Mihm prejudiced jury members by ruling before the end of the trial that the school board's policy forbidding direct communication between employees and board members was unconstitutional. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1983.)

Mr. Cannell said after the judge's ruling that the district's insurance company, which would pay the damages, would appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

'Equitable Relief'

Meanwhile, Judge Mihm agreed to review several items of "equitable relief" sought by Terry Knapp, the teacher who brought the suit. Those include deleting from Mr. Knapp's personnel records the negative comments made by district administrators, reinstating him to the teaching and coaching jobs he formerly held at Woodruff High School, and prohibiting the district from taking further "discriminatory" actions against him.

But the judge also ruled that some of the relief measures, if granted, would not take effect until the school district's appeal is ruled on. The delay, the judge said, would affect both the award of monetary damages and the proposed reinstatement of Mr. Knapp to his former posts. But if a vacancy occurs in the Woodruff High science department before the appeal process is complete, he will consider pushing ahead with the reinstatement, Judge Mihm said.

Judge Mihm also said that if he decided to change evaluations of Mr. Knapp's teaching or to erase from his professional file a written reprimand by the district's superintendent, he would not delay making those moves. Lawyers for Mr. Knapp have offered alternative written evaluations of Mr. Knapp's work that contain no references to his problems with administrators.

Mr. Knapp brought the suit--the first of its kind in the federal courts, according to Mr. Cannell--against the district last year after he was fired as an assistant baseball coach at Woodruff, transferred to a teaching post at an elementary school, and given two negative evaluations of his teaching. He charged in the suit that he was being "penalized" by administrators for speaking with members of the school board about problems in his job. Mr. Knapp is represented by lawyers for the American Federation of Teachers.

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