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Fairmont school board and fired employee fail to settle suit

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 11:03 p.m. CST

LOCKPORT – Fairmont School District 89 and a fired employee failed to reach a settlement this week on a lawsuit filed against the district.

The federal lawsuit was referred to a magistrate judge after former district Curriculum Coordinator Debra Acanfora and Fairmont school officials agreed to a settlement conference that took place Tuesday. Acanfora, who alleges unfair treatment and abuse by the school district’s superintendent Sonya Whitaker, filed the lawsuit against school officials when she was fired in May.

The case had become more contentious when Acanfora’s attorneys filed an emergency motion June 12 to protect evidence contending Whitaker may have been trying to destroy evidence related to the lawsuit. Hopes of finding common ground were dashed Tuesday when both parties could not reach a settlement. 

Fairmont Board President Joseph Ryan said in a written statement that the district agreed to the settlement conference hoping to avoid costs of litigation but was not able to reach an agreement. The terms of the settlement discussions are confidential by law, and neither party is able to disclose the proposed terms.

“The district is now fully prepared to vigorously defend itself against Ms. Acanfora’s false allegations,” Ryan’s statement read.

Ryan declined Wednesday to further discuss the settlement other than to refer to his written statement.

According to Ryan’s statement, an internal investigation of Acanfora’s allegations in the lawsuit conducted by defense counsel indicated the allegations were unfounded. The investigation also found no evidence supporting allegations of assault and battery, which Ryan’s statement labeled as “ludicrous.”

Vanessa Clohessy, an attorney representing the school district, declined to comment on details of the investigation into Acanfora’s allegations. She is with the firm Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP.

In a June 19 formal response, Whitaker and board members denied the allegations of Acanfora’s lawsuit.

In Acanfora’s lawsuit, she contended her due process rights were violated when she was fired and she denied allegations of stealing mail from the school district. In Ryan’s statement, he said the school district already determined to not renew Acanfora’s contract by the end of the school year and communicated that information in a “professional and timely manner fully compliant with the Illinois School Code.”

“Contrary to Ms. Acanfora’s breach of contract claim, her contract was ultimately terminated early because without authorization, she removed a document from the school office,” Ryan’s statement read. 

A call left with Acanfora’s attorney was not immediately returned Wednesday. 

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