Fired Palatine H.S. teacher sues District 211 board candidate for defamation

A former Palatine High School teacher fired last summer over a controversial Facebook post is suing a candidate for the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board for what she alleges were defamatory statements intended to harm her.

Jeanne Hedgepeth's lawsuit against Palatine resident Tim McGowan seeks in excess of $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for defamation and intentional interference with an existing business relationship. It was filed last month in a Cook County court.

The lawsuit claims McGowan made knowingly false statements in a Facebook post and video in June in an effort to have Hedgepeth fired from Palatine High School, where she'd worked since 2000.

The board of education voted 5-2 on July 16 to dismiss Hedgepeth.

The suit contends McGowan falsely stated that Hedgepeth had encouraged white Palatine High students to disrespect Black students over the years, and encouraged a white student to disrespect an Indian student.

It also alleges that McGowan falsely claimed that after Donald Trump's election as president, Hedgepeth allowed a white student to get up and say, "I'm glad Donald Trump was elected as he could figure out a way to get rid of these (racial slur)."

McGowan also said Hedgepeth had been a problem at Palatine High since 2015, had dramatically disturbed students and was "destroying lives and validating ignorant little white boys and discouraging a brown lady," the lawsuit states.

McGowan's attorney, Kristin Tauras, said she plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the end of the week.

"A lawsuit of this nature must be dealt with quickly," Tauras said in a written statement. "The timing of filing a lawsuit within weeks of an election can be for purposes of creating mistrust, fear and derision of a candidate. Mr. McGowan, a candidate for the 211 school board, has been a champion of the people of District 211 for several years. He has been vocal in letting the constituents of the district know that he is willing to listen to all sides of any issue, but will not stand down when it comes to bullying or indoctrination of students."

In his own written statement, McGowan said, "The minds of our students should be shown the pathway to defending our Constitution, not bringing forth vile statements."

Hedgepeth attorney Joel Handler declined to comment.

District 211 officials began investigating Hedgepeth in June over a since-deleted Facebook post about the protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The investigation began after screenshots of what purported to be Hedgepeth's remarks were shared on social media.

"The statements in the post do not reflect the values or principles of District 211," the district said in a statement at the time. "We are truly sorry for any harm or disrespect that this may have caused."

A week later, Hedgepeth said she would retire. A week after that, she rescinded her retirement request before the school board could vote on it.

Several emails sent to district officials and read aloud at board meetings called for Hedgepeth to be fired rather than be allowed to quietly retire. Others, including some by family members and longtime acquaintances, defended the teacher's character and care for her students, if not specifically her social media activity.

McGowan is among nine candidates vying for three available seats on the District 211 board of education in the April 6 election.

The others are fellow newcomers Curtis Bradley, Jessica Hinkle, Amy Nelson, Kristen Steel, Robi Vollkommer, Denise Wilson, Roxanne Wittkamp and incumbent Anna Klimkowicz.

District 211 fires Palatine High School teacher over controversial Facebook post

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