I wrote Friday about an abruptly terminated disciplinary session that a subordinate of Little Rock School Interim Superintendent Dexter Suggs had scheduled with a number of teachers.
Some outside forces got involved when it was learned that the teachers called on the carpet were accused of violating a non-existent policy by holding summer enrichment courses in a school with approval of a principal. Dozens of other teachers have done this for years at Jefferson Elementary, the campus in question, as well as many others. Teachers believe they were singled out while many others were ignored because one of their group had made complaints about an administrator Suggs had defended.
This group was told — contrary to law — that they couldn’t have a lawyer with them. State officials intervened and the disciplinary session was canceled, but it’s unclear if the matter is over. The teachers have already been smeared by their targeting.
From where I sit, it’s another bit of evidence that the state Board of Education — whatever the merits of a Little Rock takeover might be — made a fateful mistake in ousting the School Board but keeping Suggs.
Points to watch in the days ahead: How many of the 64 people on a job abolition list drawn up by Suggs return to work in other capacities? Will state Education Department officials, with plenty of other things to do, serve as an adequate overseer of Suggs, particularly if he takes the absence of a real school board a free pass to punish enemies and reward friends. His judgment has been questionable. This is a good case in point: If you want a policy on after-school facility use for educational activities, adopt a policy. But don’t single out a handful of teachers with a fraught personal history with one of your favored administrators. and ignore many others Also, the last thing this district should be doing is discouraging teachers who want to expand uses of the schools for worthy purposes that serve kids. It should be district policy to encourage this, as more enlightened school districts have done.
And on another administrative matter: You’d think in a school district declared a total failure by the new Education Commissioner Johnny Key — though he has no formal training or experience in classroom education or much familiarity with the Little Rock district on which to base his sweeping judgment — might need a change of principal or two, particularly at the six “failed” schools. I’ve had an FOI request pending for days on principal assignments for next year. I’m still awaiting a response.
I’ve been provided a letter that provides more background on the canceled teacher disciplinary hearing, which I wrote about Friday.
Teresa Gordon, media specialist at Jefferson and vice president of the Little Rock Education Association, lays out in a letter what she expected to transpire Friday and why :
Teresa Knapp Gordon, NBCT-Renewed
Library Media Specialist
To Whom It May Concern:
I understand that I am being summoned to the Administration Building for a disciplinary meeting on Friday, April 10, 2015, regarding the Summer Technology Camp that I offered the past two years at Jefferson Elementary. I understand that I am being accused of the following:
• Failing to handle money intended for the Little Rock School District according to policies and procedures. In fact, you accepted money for an unapproved summer program and deposited the same into a non-LRSD banking account. All money collected by district personnel should be deposited in the District bank account. Money is not to be held back from deposits for expenditures of district related events. You violated policy DM: Cash in School Buildings.
First and foremost, I believe the investigation and the resulting disciplinary action are retaliation for: reporting of an abuse of sick leave and of Falsification of Records by the Director of Elementary Education-Shoutell Richardson and the Bale Principal-Ericka McCarroll in the fall of 2014; filing a Code of Ethics violation for retaliation and abuse of sick leave and falsification of records against the two employees previously mentioned and against the Superintendent-Dexter Suggs; and filing a Level 3 grievance for lost planning time, administrative time, duty free lunches and breaks due to my Media Clerk-Mary Alice Jones being removed and harassed to the point that she felt she had no choice but to resign by Jordan Eason as retaliation for the aforementioned items.
[Editor’s note: These complaints were dismissed or held unfounded by Suggs and the Education Department without action against any of those named.]
I believe that the flyer for my camp was given to Mr. Becker by the Director of Elementary Education, Shoutell Richardson, or a source that did so at her direction, and then urged an investigation alleging wrongdoing on my part. In addition, none of the aides that offered an aftercare component received letters for disciplinary action, and one of those ladies is Richardson’s friend and participated in the trip that resulted in the abuse of sick leave and falsification of records. They did the exact same thing the teachers did. It sickens me that my Principal and seven of the finest, highly qualified educators in the Little Rock School District are being targeted like this for trying to help students. Article 27-Teacher Discipline in the Certified PNA states that there must be Just Cause for disciplinary action. Sections A, C, G, H, and J apply to this situation and have been violated. The Code of Ethics for Arkansas Educators states that there should be no retaliation for reporting a violation.
Second, Article 23A Compliance directs that if there are no rules, regulations and directions adopted by the Board, that teachers are responsible to their building supervisors. I asked for and received permission from my immediate building supervisor, Roberta Mannon, to conduct the camp in the same way that the other summer camps that were being offered were being conducted. I have the email where I was given permission by Mrs. Mannon. I used the same form that the other camps used and changed the title to my camp’s title. These camps had been offered every summer since before I transferred to Jefferson Elementary. I have been here for six years. The camps were offered at the request of parents as enrichment for Jefferson students during the summer. These are private funds for an enrichment program provided by me when I am off contract-not working for the district. These are not district funds. Parents paid me directly via checks made out to me specifically. The form even includes a waiver that releases the district from any liability. The money was never intended for Jefferson Elementary or Little Rock School District and the Principal approved that. Vouchers were available for students that couldn’t afford to pay, and Jefferson Jubilee offered vouchers provided by me for the silent auction so some students came through that. We offered a service and used the building just like Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Violin Lessons, Cheer Camps, Football Camps, Basketball Camps, Tutoring, etc. These types of services are occurring all over the district every day and in the summer. No LRSD Camps are offered at Jefferson, nor does Jefferson have the Title I money or 21st Century money to provide them.
Third, the camps were conducted during the summer after I was off contract. I had permission to use the Media Center, the playground and the equipment from my immediate supervisor, Roberta Mannon, which means that Policy KF-R does not apply. The iPads that were used were purchased with PTA funds by me and I had permission to use them in my camp from my immediate supervisor. Before that purchase, the LRSD had not provided any handheld technology to Jefferson Elementary. Since the money was for a camp that I conducted off contract time, and because I claimed these funds as income on my taxes, parents paid me directly. This is the same procedure as all of the other camps had been using that had been offered at Jefferson for many years. This was not a district fundraiser or program. It was never advertised as such, and parents knew they were to pay me directly for my services. I was not under contract by the district to work the summer camp. Therefore, the money was not Activity Fund money and the policies in the Activities Fund Handbook would not have applied, nor would Board Policy DM as these were not district monies.
Finally, as a parent that has had children who have attended numerous schools in the district, and as a teacher who knows and interacts with colleagues throughout the district, I know that there are numerous afterschool and summer programs offered, as well as private tutoring by teachers and the collection of money for all of them is conducted in this exact same manner, even during the school year. As such, this is a past practice in the district. As far as I know, there are no guidelines or Board Policy regarding private tutoring or staff offering programs when they are off contract. The parents asked for the camps. This is something that is expected by the clientele that we serve here at Jefferson. I’m certain that the parents are going to be very upset that there will be no camps this year when they learn of this. The PTA supported us doing the camps. There were no attempts to hide what we were doing. It was advertised through fliers, on Edline, and through Jefferson PTA blasts on their parental contact page and their website. I do not believe that disciplinary action is appropriate because of this, because of the aforementioned items, and because I believe that this investigation began as retaliation toward me for the reasons stated. Every teacher involved is a highly qualified teacher and we all are respected by both our peers and our communities. The students are the ones who are going to lose in this situation because none of us are going to be willing to offer summer camps after the ordeal of this investigation.
As for the last paragraph in the letter regarding representation, are you aware that it is illegal to deny a public sector worker access to legal representation at a disciplinary meeting and this is not subject to anyone’s approval? It is a violation of the constitutional rights of a public sector employee. I will have representation at the meeting with me, and I fully intend to grieve any disciplinary action as I believe that this is a retaliatory measure and violates my rights as a teacher protected by a contract and Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal.
Teresa Knapp Gordon, NBCT-Renewed
Library Media Specialist
Cc: Tim Greene, AEA Uniserv Director
John Walker, Attorney-at-Law
Greg Alagood, Attorney-at-Law