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Minnesota school discusses allegations of child mistreatment by teacher

WILLMAR, Minn. -- The Willmar School Board closed its regular meeting to the public for two hours Monday to discuss allegations against a special education teacher in the district.

WILLMAR, Minn. - The Willmar School Board closed its regular meeting to the public for two hours Monday to discuss allegations against a special education teacher in the district.

After the closed meeting, the board voted to place a letter in the file of Willmar Middle School teacher Kristen Panchyshyn, but did not reveal the letter’s contents or any information about the allegations against her. More than 15 people attended the public portion of the meeting in support of Panchyshyn, who was also at the meeting. Four people spoke to the board, including Candy Tabor of Willmar.

Tabor said her child was the one allegedly mistreated by Panchyshyn. “Kristen Panchyshyn is the best thing that ever happened to my son,” she said. When he started middle school, he spoke a handful of words, she said, and he now has a vocabulary of 120 words.

“As the parent of the child supposedly injured, I didn’t see a mark on him,” Tabor said. “He loves his teacher.”

Three other parents spoke in support of Panchyshyn and said they and their children are pleased with her classroom. One parent said her son wasn’t reading when he went to the middle school, but Panchyshyn developed a program that helped him learn to read.

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The parents said they had received a letter from the state of Minnesota regarding the report of mistreatment. When they called the telephone number provided, they found that the state investigation was not complete, they said.

The board voted to close the meeting to the public after completing all other business on its agenda. About a dozen supporters waited with Panchyshyn in the hallway at the Willmar Arts and Education Center during the board’s two-hour deliberation.

The Minnesota Open Meeting Law allows public bodies to close meetings for “preliminary consideration of allegations” against an employee. The employee involved has the right to ask that such a meeting be kept open, but it doesn’t happen often.

At the end of the meeting, Board Chairwoman Liz VanDerBill read a statement from the board, thanking people for their interest in the board and school district and explaining that state law prohibits the school district from providing any information about the allegations or the board’s actions related to them.

In other business, the board voted to authorize the school administration to begin advertising for bids for the upcoming $52.35 million construction program approved by the voters in May.

Work is moving ahead on the planning stages at this point in the program, which will include a new elementary school, Middle School science classrooms and a gym at the Senior High.

The board asked Superintendent Jeff Holm to schedule a hearing in January to consider a tax abatement request from the MinnWest Technology Campus.

Holm also suggested May 10 as the date for a special election for a vacancy on the board.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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