In a federal lawsuit filed early this month, former Henrico County special education teacher Kandise Lucas accuses school officials of targeting her for attempting to blow the whistle on alleged abuse of special-needs pupils.
This isn't the first time the issue has arisen in court. In 2009 Lucas was ordered to pay monetary damages for making defamatory statements against the former John Rolfe Middle teacher who Lucas charged was abusing pupils.
In a June 2009 letter to the editor of the Richmond Voice newspaper, Lucas wrote, “I am pleased to report that [name redacted], special-education teacher at John Rolfe Middle School, that has had a history of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse toward children with special needs and Rolfe's staff, was incarcerated for a long time. ...”
Following the article's publication, the accused teacher filed a $1 million defamation lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court against Lucas and Southside Voice Inc., publisher of the newspaper. Lawyer Barry Montgomery says that at trial his client, the accused teacher, denied that he had ever abused his pupils.
In court documents, Lucas denied assertions that she lacked evidence to back her accusations, or that she didn't investigate the facts included in the article prior to its publication. But the jury disagreed, awarding $125,000 in damages to the former special education teacher. A judge later reduced that amount, ordering Lucas to pay $25,000.
Despite that ruling, the case seems far from resolved. Following the original trial, the Richmond Voice appealed the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, which denied the petition for appeal, upholding the lower court decision. Lucas, who represented herself during the 2009 trial, filed a separate appeal, which was dismissed for being filed improperly. She says she plans to refile her petition to the Virginia Supreme Court.
As for her lawsuit against Henrico County school officials — she's suing for $5 million, charging that she was fired for attempting to report pupil abuse — Lucas says she plans to press ahead. Her first hearing hasn't been scheduled.
The accused teacher is also still involved in the matter. On Oct. 17 he filed a second defamation lawsuit against the Richmond Voice. A March 24 editorial published in the paper shortly after the first trial said the jury found in the teacher's favor “despite a bevy of evidence proving that the info was accurate, albeit subjective.” The teacher is asking for $350,000 in damages.
Reached by phone, Richmond Voice publisher Jack Green, who is named as a defendant in the suit, declines to comment citing the ongoing litigation. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for March 11.