45222 BACKTOSCHOOLMS

A former guidance counselor at Millard South says her sexual orientation was a factor in district officials "forcing" her out of her job.

A former guidance counselor alleges that her sexual orientation was a factor in district officials “forcing” her out of her job at Millard South High School.

Jill Stogdill, 37, is suing the Millard Public Schools in U.S. District Court for employment discrimination.

Her lawsuit alleges that she was forced to resign “only because she was viewed by (district officials) as non-typical and engaged in a life relationship with another female.”

Her lawsuit claims that the effort to dismiss her arose from her counseling a student who belonged to an after-school club that Stogdill sponsored, which drew complaints from the girl’s parents and triggered a district investigation.

The investigation, she claims, led officials to deem her contacts with the student, including text messages, as improper.

She claims that the district has been more lenient with other teachers caught engaging in more dangerous or “invasive” activities with students.

Millard spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman issued a statement Tuesday.

“By law, we cannot address private personnel and student matters,” Kleeman said. “We welcome the opportunity for this situation to be examined by a court of law.”

When district officials make decisions, “student safety and well-being are our top concern, and we will always act accordingly,” she said. “The district is also committed to treating all students and staff fairly and with respect.”

According to Stogdill’s account of events, she was the sponsor of an after-school club. She gave the students her phone number. A student began sending her text messages concerning her grades, college options and her family’s expectations.

In October 2016, the lawsuit says, the student texted her saying she was “struggling, at her wits’ end and wanting to end everything.” Stogdill called the student and determined, based on her education, experience and training, that the student was “stressed” but not suicidal, the lawsuit says.

The girl’s parents subsequently complained to the district, and an internal investigation was launched.

In the lawsuit, she alleges that officials deemed her texts and other activities involving the girl as “grooming” and advised her that she couldn’t be trusted around students — a charge the lawsuit says is not credible.

“Other employees who engaged in one-on-one time with students, including texting, were not punished, they were celebrated,” the lawsuit says.

She claims that district officials gave her the option of quitting or being terminated.

She is suing for lost and future wages, damages for emotional pain and suffering, attorney fees and punitive damages for violating federal discrimination laws.

Although Millard officials declined to comment on the details, the incident is referenced in a state reprimand that arose from the investigation.

Stogdill’s actions drew a reprimand from Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt in September 2016.

In a letter, Blomstedt reprimanded her for “violating the standards of professional conduct and ethics.”

The letter states that Stogdill “inappropriately communicated through text messages with a female student that included texting with the student continually throughout school days, removing the student from classrooms on several occasions, and allowing the student to visit (her) office in an unofficial capacity.”

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joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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