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Lewis and Clark teacher accused of bullying students may return to classroom

Andrea Deschamp / 2010 Forum file photo1 / 2
A fifth-grade teacher at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Fargo was accused of bullying students. She has since been removed from her position at the school. WDAY-TV photo2 / 2

FARGO — A fifth-grade teacher may be able to return to a classroom later this school year or at the start of the next school year after being removed from Lewis and Clark Elementary School for allegations of bullying four children, a Fargo School District memo says.

Meanwhile, Alexandra, the mother of a 10-year-old girl the district's investigation said was bullied, intends to go to the next School Board meeting to call for changes that would make the complaint system more responsive to the concerns of parents.

"This is not a one teacher problem. This is a problem across the board," Alexandra, who declined to share her last name, said Wednesday, Dec. 6.

A formal complaint was made against the teacher, 38-year-old Andrea Deschamp, on Nov. 7. She was put on paid leave after a Nov. 15 meeting with Superintendent Jeff Schatz, other district officials, and Laura Christensen, president of the teachers union, known as the Fargo Education Association (FEA).

Deschamp, who is in her ninth year of teaching full-time in Fargo, was accused of creating an environment of intimidation for Alexandra's daughter and a small group of other students.

An investigation by Human Resources Director Brittnee Nikle concluded that allegations of bullying were substantiated. Nikle wrote that Deschamp:

• Had repeatedly spoken in a way that directed negative attention at specific students, with no educational purpose.

• Inappropriately restricted students' access to the bathroom and the nurse's office.

• Was not truthful in saying she had contacted one student's fourth-grade teacher.

• Had a classroom culture that was at times intimidating and coercive.

In a Nov. 30 meeting, Schatz shared the district's "Plan of Action" with Deschamp. That included:

• Deschamp would not return to Lewis and Clark.

• She would be considered for an alternative assignment for the rest of the 2017-18 school year.

• She must commit to building positive relationships with all students, parents, staff and administrators.

• A mentoring and training program.

• An assessment in March.

• If she returns to a classroom in 2018-19, she would work at another school. A middle school was suggested.

• She must not retaliate against the victims, reporters or witnesses, nor talk to parents, students or staff about the investigation.

• Further incidents could lead to her firing.

Attempts to reach Deschamp for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. Deschamp's mother, Marlene Nelson, said district and FEA officials instructed her daughter not to talk about the case.

FEA President Christensen said Wednesday that the union appreciated that district administrators were "following the steps" of due process, but she declined to discuss the matter further.

Documents in Deschamp's personnel file indicate some past concerns about her professional behavior.

A 2014 memorandum from Lewis and Clark Principal Jason Cresap said parents had reported "that their children do not want to come to school and that the students feel as though Ms. Deschamp does not like them."

A December 2015 memorandum from Schatz to Deschamp noted that a complaint of bullying during the 2015 summer school session had been made, but not substantiated. That memorandum also addressed concerns by Cresap that Deschamp had been acting unprofessionally with staff, and had "a pattern of issues regarding relationships, communications, and homework expectations with students and parents."

However, in a February 2017 evaluation, Deschamp earned some praise. "Ms. Deschamp has helped support students not in her classroom or grade level who have needed some behavior support. That support has been appreciated," Cresap wrote.

Alexandra said she's not out to get Deschamp fired.

"If her true passion is to teach, I hope she can make the changes she has to make to teach successfully," Alexandra said. "I've no desire to ruin this woman's career. My only intention is to protect the children from this happening in the future."

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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