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Former Penn-Trafford teacher refiles lawsuit

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A former high school Spanish teacher has renewed her “whistle-blower” lawsuit against the Penn-Trafford School District in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court after a federal judge declined to put a similar case on a trial list.

Judith Bielewicz is suing the district, high school Principal Scott Inglese, former Superintendent Deborah Kolonay and former Assistant Superintendent Harry Smith.

Bielewicz's new lawsuit, filed last week, stems from her March 2010 suspension for failing to adhere to a performance-improvement plan. The suspension came after she confronted Inglese about the removal of a struggling student from her classroom.

Bielewicz said in the lawsuit that the student's transfer wasn't done in accordance with school policy.

Superintendent Thomas Butler declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Bielewicz's complaint — which says that the district violated her rights under the state's whistle-blower law — is similar to a suit she filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh in September 2010.

District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled in March that the whistle-blower complaint should be heard by a state court. McVerry also accepted a magistrate's recommendation that another allegation — that the district violated Bielewicz's First Amendment rights — should be dismissed because Bielewicz's confronting of Inglese was related to her role as a teacher, not as a public citizen.

Both of Bielewicz's lawsuits have referenced other incidents in which she said she was forced to change students' grades arbitrarily, allow plagiarized reports to be rewritten and allow a student caught with a cheat sheet during a project to redo the work.

Neither complaint lists any specifics for any of those alleged incidents.

In a deposition in the federal case, Inglese said a parent of the student removed from Bielewicz's class said that Bielewicz accused the student of cheating in front of the class and refused to help her.

Christina Lane, an attorney for the district, argued in federal court that Bielewicz's whistle-blower complaint failed to meet the qualifications for the statute and was filed after the 180-day window from the time of the incident.

The case was assigned to Judge Gary Caruso.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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