Legal Fund for Maren - FIGHTING FOR OUR KIDS!

Campaign Created by: Christina Bird

Goal: USD $50,000
Raised: USD $ 3,640

*****Please contact the creator of this campaign if you or someone you know are able to represent Maren PRO BONO!*****

Former Brevard County, Florida educator blackballed from working by the school district after reporting a teacher for abusing autistic children and is then sued by the teacher for slander. Maren Montes is a former educator for Brevard Public Schools, who in January 2019 alleged witnessing a teacher mentally, emotionally and physically abusing autistic children in her hometown of Rockledge, Florida while working in said teacher’s classroom as an Instructional Aide. Maren had planned on returning to teaching fulltime in August 2019 once her daughter entered kindergarten but that all changed after reporting the alleged abuse. As a single mother of two, Maren is now representing herself in court against the slander charges and has finally agreed to make her story public.

After bringing the alleged abuse to light, Maren was seemingly blackballed from substitute teaching after previously being requested regularly. Calls to substitute teach simply ceased. Then, she noticed anytime she stepped foot on the school campus where her children attended school (and she had previously worked), she believed she was being followed by administrators. She says it became clear to her she had been labeled a “trouble-maker,” when an administrator was asked to sit in on her child’s end-of-year parent-teacher conference per the request of the teacher, much to Maren’s dismay and humiliation. She also reports that one of her best friends was told by a teacher who worked at the school that indeed, Maren was not welcome to work there anymore. After inquiring with Human Resources as to why she wasn’t getting work, Maren was informed that it appeared someone had manually gone in and altered her account in such a way that meant she would no longer receive phone calls to substitute teach. The biggest blow of all was delivered when she was served a lawsuit for slander against the teacher. All of this transpired as a consequence of doing her job as a formally-educated teacher (and mother) and believing she was doing the right thing to protect the children put in her charge. Acting in good faith, Maren should be protected from liability for reporting child abuse under Florida Statute Chapter 39.203.

Maren would not be the only witness to alleged abuse by this teacher. When the police were called to take a report, they took statements from other teacher's aides who had been in the classroom and one stated she had confronted the teacher on her abuse of her students. The teacher then had her transferred out of her classroom. Another aide stated she had witnessed the teacher teasing the children with candy and then withholding it from them. Others who were questioned by the police told Maren privately they feared losing their jobs if they spoke out. One assistant said she wasn't comfortable speaking out but was choosing to remain in the classroom to protect the children. Another told Maren that as a single mother of four, she couldn't go public because she simply could not afford to lose her job.

One of the alleged victim's parents reached out to Maren after she heard about what had been reported. The parent said the impression the administration gave her when she asked who alleged the abuse was that Maren was “some 18-year-old fresh out of high school with absolutely no experience.” In fact, Maren is an experienced educator and mother of two in her 40’s as the parents would learn.  

A portion of the police report taken:

Ms. Caldwell (now Montes) disclosed she witnessed [teacher] physically holding children’s hands down on a desk, forcing a student into a “mat” and kneeling on a child, which appeared to restrict his breathing. She stated [teacher] would instigate “meltdowns” that would result in her “unnecessarily restraining” the children. Ms. Caldwell stated [teacher] intentionally tempts the children by leaving candy on the floor where they can get to it. She witnessed [teacher] reaction after [student] took an M&M from the bag without permission. She advised [teacher]held down [student] and stuck her finger inside his mouth to retrieve the candy. Ms. Caldwell said [teacher] justified her actions by saying “I just need him to feel it.” There were allegations by Ms. Caldwell that [teacher] forcefully shoves her fingertips into the children’s armpits and squeezes their hands as punishment or incentive to comply with her requests. Ms. Caldwell additionally advised specific and detailed conduct by the suspect which she believed was emotionally abusive toward the children by tormenting, threatening, bullying, yelling, mocking and teasing them.

During the course of the investigation Maren was told by the authorities that the teacher was not going to be arrested for the following reasons: 

  1. There were no marks left on the children's bodies to prove physical abuse. 

Maren alleges the teacher showed her how she could hurt the children three different ways without leaving bruises (evidence) as well as how to gag them. 

  1. It was Maren’s word against the children. The children needed to be able to tell the deputy what happened to them. 

Unfortunately, these are autistic children who have difficulty communicating or are non-verbal for the most part. 

  1. If there were videos of the abuse, they could arrest the teacher. 

Maren, as well as the parents of the alleged victims, requested a warrant for the teacher's personal cell phone because it is alleged that the teacher recorded herself abusing the children on it. But no warrant was ever served. Maren says she also offered to take a polygraph multiple times, but her offers were ignored. 

Maren felt pushed out of the only career she had ever known and was forced to hire an attorney to defend herself against the slander charge. She was not a member of the teacher’s union at the time because she was only substitute teaching and not currently utilizing her teaching certificate, therefore the union could not aid in her defense. Maren also missed out on utilizing the protection of the Whistle Blower Act by 23 days. 

Over the course of the last three years, Maren's personal attorney's fees have exceeded $10K. As a single mother of two, Maren had to withdraw her counsel and is currently representing herself. On August 29, 2022, she lost her case requesting a dismissal of the slander charge -- her final shot at ending this ongoing nightmare. At that hearing Maren says she was informed by the opposing counsel that he intends to file an injunction against her so she can never publicly share her story about what happened in that classroom ever again. In addition, Maren will eventually go before a federal court to testify on behalf of the children in a lawsuit being brought by their parents against the Brevard County School Board, Brevard County School District and the classroom teacher who was reassigned to a non-classroom setting in the school district.

Now is the time for the community to step up and help Maren who has been carrying this burden alone for far too long, simply for doing what she felt was necessary: fulfilling her responsibility as a mandated reporter and courageously choosing to come forward and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Your donations – no matter the size – will go a long way in helping Maren defend herself against the slander charges and in providing counsel when she appears in federal court. 

Maren is currently working with a local representative in hopes of rewording Florida Statute Chapter 39.203 and is fighting for mandatory cameras in all classrooms where children cannot self-report. It is so important for her story to be heard so this situation can be avoided in the future for all children, families, and employees sake. Real changes must be made to protect the innocent and most defenseless among us - our children.

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. - Proverbs 28:1


Update: Going to Mediation
January 11, 2023
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First and most importantly, thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for praying, calling, texting and donating to help support me in trying to obtain counsel. I will be going to mediation on March 7, 2023 and if the case is not resolved, I go to a five-day trial in February 2024. One attorney gave me a quote of $75,000 - $120,000 just to represent me in trial, so I pray it does not make it that far. I also pray that divine intervention will happen and this nightmare will just end if the right people find out about what has transpired.

Today marks four years since I stepped into that classroom and my life was forever changed. I have been connecting with multiple local representatives about the importance of camera and audio in the classrooms of children with disabilities and presenting a bill at session for this law to pass. I do not know if it will be presented this session, but that is my hope and prayer.

Please keep praying for God to continue to give me strength through this hurricane. I love you all and I truly thank you. <3 


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