We now know why Decatur fired beloved clerk. Were these sufficient causes?

The firing Friday of a beloved Decatur High School employee — one for whom affection ran so deep that news of her termination inspired hundreds of emails, a rally attended by graduates across the years and a public show of support by her colleagues — was based on several factors, according to her attorney, none of which is likely to assuage her supporters.

Because the list released by Susan Riley’s attorney David Hughes will not strike the average person as sufficient grounds for City Schools of Decatur to fire a 19-year veteran with exemplary reviews until a new manager this year.

In 2011, Susan Riley was named a Decatur Hometown Hero for her support of the Decatur High School students, including those in ROTC

In 2011, Susan Riley was named a Decatur Hometown Hero for her support of the Decatur High School students, including those in ROTC

Given the passion of testimony in Riley’s favor at Monday’s rally — tearful students testified her comfort and counseling saved their lives and parents shared their children would never have survived high school without Riley — the outrage is unlikely to abate in the face of the stated termination causes. Students and parents at the rally repeatedly called Riley the “most beloved woman” in the school.

Among the charges detailed at a meeting this week with Riley, her attorney and new Decatur Schools Superintendent David Dude:

  1. Riley took home an iPad overnight, one that was bought for her use and checked out to her.
  2. She failed to follow her new manager’s job plan for her.
  3. She complained to the administration about how her co-workers treated her.
  4. And then Riley talked about the fact she filed a complaint.

As Dude told me at the rally, he was unaware of the “scope” of Riley’s standing in the community and school when he dismissed her without explanation Friday; he may have not known that she not only helped many students who felt invisible in the school but she rescued faculty with technology problems. (As a clerk, Riley is an at-will employee without the due process rights accorded teachers.)

teachersdecatur

Decatur teachers show their support for a fired clerk by standing sentry Monday outside the school during a support rally.

Someone commented on Facebook this whole mess reflects the corporate nature of school districts now, where leaders are not grown up within the system but found in national job searches, as was Dude who came from Iowa to Decatur only four months ago.

These corporate hires, said the commenter, arrive not knowing the history or the people, and this Decatur case seems a prime example.

After classes dismissed Wednesday, Dude convened a meeting to caution all the high school teachers not to discuss Riley’s firing in class as he warned it was inappropriate and the City Schools of Decatur’s reputation was at stake. He also said teachers may be asked to talk to an independent investigator — yet to be named — who is going to review Riley’s firing in light of the community uproar.

So, Riley remains on paid leave. The community outrage over her firing led Dude to issue a statement on Sunday that he was revisiting the issue and putting her on the leave.

I asked City Schools of Decatur for a response to Riley’s attorney’s statement. Here it is:

There are a number of material inaccuracies in the press release prepared by Susan Riley’s attorney. The school system is not going to publicly correct those inaccuracies nor are we going to engage in a public discussion about this matter while under review. The school system will honor its promise to suspend the termination of Ms. Riley, to perform an independent, impartial review of the allegations that led to her termination, and to take appropriate action following the conclusion of that review.

We ask that all stakeholders exercise patience and give Dr. Dude a chance to complete the independent review he has committed to doing, and allow CSD to work with Ms. Riley and her attorney privately regarding this sensitive and confidential matter. In the meantime, Dr. Dude will work, with full support of the Board, to continue focusing our work on educating students.

Here is the full statement from David Hughes, Riley’s attorney:

Since Friday, February 26, 2016 when she was initially terminated from the City Schools of Decatur (CSD), Susan Riley and her counsel, David Hughes, have requested to know the grounds for her termination.  Their requests had been rebuffed until now.
 
Yesterday afternoon, Superintendent David Dude informed Riley, a media clerk at Decatur High School, that her initial termination was based on allegations that she: 1) misappropriated school equipment by taking home an iPad that had been purchased for her use and was checked out to her; 2) failed to follow a new job plan given to her; 3) inappropriately complained to the administration about mistreatment of her by the co-workers with whom she worked;  and 4) failed to keep confidential a Human Resources’ investigation regarding her complaints.  Riley denies that she did anything wrong regarding these matters that would warrant her dismissal.   Dude now acknowledges that the information upon which he relied in terminating Riley is questionable and may have been false. 
 
Prior to her termination, Riley had complained to her supervisors and the administration about age-related harassment of her by co-workers.  One co-worker had continually stated and otherwise implied that Riley, who is 61 years old, should figure out a way to retire as soon as she could.  After Riley complained, the conduct continued.  Riley was given a job plan that prohibited her from assisting faculty members with technical issues regarding media equipment, a function she had performed for years.   A job reclassification for Riley that had been approved under the prior administration, with increased responsibilities and greater pay, was summarily rejected by the current administration after Riley complained of the ongoing harassment.  When Riley inquired of the current administration, she was told that no paperwork existed relating to the job reclassification.  Riley attempted to demonstrate that the reclassification had, in fact, been approved; yet, her conversations on the matter are now apparently deemed a violation of an alleged Human Resources’ investigation.
  
The reason given yesterday by CSD for Riley’s initial termination is not credible.   Instead, it appears to be a mere pretext to cover for the harassment she experienced.   Now that Dude has suspended the termination, Riley is hopeful that the administration will do the right thing and restore her to her former job, with the reclassification she was promised.
 

 

Reader Comments 0

49 comments
Susan Karl
Susan Karl

Sounds like Superintendent David Dude is a jerk. Figures he be in charge. 

redweather
redweather

I see this about Sandi Dennis at AboutMe.com:

Media and Instructional Technology Diva. City Schools of Decatur, Ga. 

She appears to work in the Decatur High Media Center.

bu22
bu22

Its pretty well understood that age discrimination is openly practiced in lots of companies.  Its just less cost effective to fight than it is for a 25 year old Black/Hispanic/etc.

Another comment
Another comment

nothing surpises me, I know of an incident that happened in downtown Decatur, where the EEO director for an organization a Black female placed her hands around the neck of a black male EEO investigator in a staff meeting with three plus witnesses. Part of it was disgust with the EEO director conspiring with Mgmt on trumpeted up EEO studies to go after targeted managers or organizations, individuals that had pending EEO, cases including age discrimination. I did a FIO on it and came across the file as I dug about my Christmas information. The EEOC in DC was called by a concerned person after this incident. They then called everyone with a pending case and told them we would be willing to bet your case will be settled.

People who are incompetent will do anything to protect themselves and the lies and charades. Unfortunately, many times a lot of good people get caught.

It is unfortunate that people do not realize why they need Unions! I have been in Mgmt my entire career, I see first hand how toxic it is.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Sometimes a person comes into a new situation and sees that a long-time employee with fewer academic credentials is getting a great deal of attention and respect.  That new person feels a little threatened when that long-time employee is the "go to" person, and they resent it, so they begin a subtle program of denigrating the long -term, and in this case, older, employee, to make themselves feel better. And if that long-term employee has the temerity to resist and complain, trumped up charges may ensue.  Then the charges get brought to the big boss, also new, and s/he acts on the "information" and fires the long-time employee without getting fully informed. Then the new big boss has to CYA when s/he looks bad in the press.


Might this be what happened?

DunwoodyMom1
DunwoodyMom1

@Wascatlady  I would tend to agree Wascatlady.  CSD has a new Superintendent, and a new HR director...it would be the perfect time to "pull the wool" over a few eyes and dismiss staff. 

Arthur Fuller
Arthur Fuller

As Decatur High Alumni, I can unequivocally state that it was the new staff in the media department who started this.

They have a history at other schools in the system that no one is talking about.

Another comment
Another comment

I am guessing that the new staff in the media room is a "Sister" of the new Principal. Or a family member. It so sounds like a "Sister" move. Especially, the type of move we witness by those of the pink and green wearing types.

redweather
redweather

@Arthur Fuller So would that be Karen Davis or Sandi Dennis? At AboutMe.com I see this about Dennis:

Media and Instructional Technology Diva. City Schools of Decatur, Ga.

Connor96
Connor96

It sickens me that someone would harass her due to her age. She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met, and while I did not necessarily depend on her support through high school, but she sure made it a hell of a lot better.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“After classes dismissed Wednesday, Dude convened a meeting to caution all the high school teachers not to discuss Riley’s firing in class as he warned it was inappropriate and the City Schools of Decatur’s reputation was at stake.”

From worse to worser.  From bad to badder.

Can’t muzzle one?  Then inject fear to try to muzzle them all and, in the process, create a situation to allow shifting blame to “the high school teachers” and away from Dude.

Relying on fear seems such a SOP among urban superintendents.  So, will Decatur’s school board invite Dude to a conversation out behind the woodshed or will they simply dismiss Dude’s behavior as a nug’s misstep?

redweather
redweather

@EdJohnson I'm not sure the school system's reputation is at stake. Rather, I think it's Mr. Dude's reputation that is at stake. That's probably what he meant whether he knew it or not.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@EdJohnson Very poorly handled from the beginning.  The School Board needs to revisit their hiring of Mr. Dude, and if it is found that he was given incorrect information, the source of the information should be summarily fired.

bu22
bu22

@EdJohnson Nothing hurts a district's reputation more than a coverup.

weetamoe
weetamoe

There seems to be a contradiction here---an employee who is so beloved that she can not get along with her co-workers?

And given the context of the codeworddogwhistle scolds of the AJC community, "free thinking" is double plus ungood. 

redweather
redweather

@weetamoe I could be wrong but in light of the many shortcomings the "reform crowd" routinely lays at the feet of public school teachers, free thinking might be just what the schools need. Indeed, I have a feeling this is what the reform crowd has in mind when it promotes charter schools as being places where teachers have sufficient "flexibility" a/k/a freedom to get the job done.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@weetamoe 

"Beloved among the students," evidently. But ageism is common among younger co-workers, like, say, millennials for whom 61 is ancient. Or those who resent her seniority on the job.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

There is an additional angle here: as a media clerk for the Decatur City Schools, Ms. Riley must be a member of the Teachers Retirement Services (TRS).  TRS rules state that all public school employees in covered positions must be TRS members; and covered positions include clerks. (Member's Guide, p. 4) The rules permit retirement at age 60 if the member is 10 years vested, but full-time benefits are only permitted after 30 years of service. 25 years gives reduced benefits.

Ms. Riley is 61, so she could retire now since evidently she has worked there at least 10 years. But how long until she has the 30 years of service required for full benefits? Her firing could mean that she wouldn't have a livable retirement income.

I hope that her lawyer pursues every angle here, including possible age-discrimination. This is sickening.

DisenchantedVoter
DisenchantedVoter

Since Ms. Riley is a media clerk and a not certified staff, she's probably not a TRS mbr.

Doesn't mean that age discrimination issues aren't in play, but the TRS issue is probably not applicable here.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

P.S.  I see that she has 19 years of service. This means that if she retired now, after being fired, she would get approximately 38% of the average of her last 2 years' salary from TRS. Assuming that she is not getting a high-level administrator's salary, this would not be enough to live on!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@DisenchantedVoter 

 The issue of being "certified staff" or not isn't relevant for TRS, though it may be for the state's retirement plan for its employees.

I checked my own TRS "Member's Guide" before I posted this, and it states: "All employees who are employed half-time or more in covered positions of the state's public schools...are required to be members of TRS. ...Covered positions include...clerks..."(p. 4).

DisenchantedVoter
DisenchantedVoter

Most classified school staff who are not certified, including clerks, are members of the Public School Employees Retirement System which is administered under the Employees Retirement System (which serves most non-educator state employees and is not as robust as TRS).

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@DisenchantedVoter 

PSERS is a different retirement plan from TRS. According to state law, public school employees, including some staff categories, must belong to TRS, without any distinction as to certified or non-certified staff, and as I noted above the category of clerk is covered by TRS.

eulb
eulb

I am reminded of what happened at North Atlanta High School in October of 2012 on what came to be known as "Bloody Friday".  New APS Superintendent Davis had listened to and believed anonymous allegations of racism and racially motivated cheating at North Atlanta High School.  He promptly ousted the school's respected administrators without opportunity for hearing or defense, despite an outcry from the student body and parents.  He ordered an "investigation" which, a year later, revealed (surprise?) no racism.  But the damage was already done, the careers and reputations destroyed, the faculty left in disarray.  Wrongs were never righted. The individuals who floated their unsubstantiated rumors and wrecked that school were never identified.  They suffered no consequences.  Parents in the NAHS zone felt betrayed and disgusted.  I am one of them. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@eulb I covered that news when it broke that Friday afternoon and attended the hearing where Davis met with parents, all 1,000 of them. I think Davis eventually realized he handled that poorly. 

eulb
eulb

@MaureenDowney @eulb

I recall that meeting, too.  I especially remember one father who was given an opportunity to ask a question.  He very  respectfully asked Dr. Davis something along the lines of: 'If you find you have made a mistake here, will you return these administrators to their jobs?"  Davis said no.  I don't remember his exact words but he made it clear that he would never retract his actions. 

Even a year later, after that report came out, Davis still maintained that his actions were justified.   He either still believed the discredited rumors or was not truthful enough to admit he had orchestrated a terrible injustice.

W2XAB
W2XAB

One must wonder if the real problem is she is white.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@W2XAB 

Or that she's near retirement age. It's not unknown for school administrators to fire longtime employees to save money...it happened to my own mother the year before she was to retire after 25 years. She was a high school teacher who belonged to the NY Teachers Union headed by Al Shanker, and the union raised enough stink to get the decision reversed. I hope that happens here.

redweather
redweather

The attorney's statement makes it look like one of two things will happen in the near future. Either Mr. Dude will rescind the termination and reinstate Riley, or Riley will authorize her attorney to file a law suit.

No2Decatur
No2Decatur

Sad to see a valued member treated this way. You would think someone in the super"s position would take time to get to know the lay of the land. Besides isn't that suppose to be the benefits of a smaller school district? I've often wondered are Decatur schools really any better and that with level of the parental involvement and the income levels of the families these kids would perform well anywhere. Would like to see if City of Decatur schools really are any better

Jmand65
Jmand65

I'd like to point out that this is an example of when given strong control of personnel, school administrators often use very subjective reasons from unreliable sources to make decisions.  You can be a great and influential teacher, but have a clash with your administrator and end up without a contract.  So people want a more objective appraisal, which is what grading teachers on student test scores is supposed to do.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Good comment I wanted to share on this story from AJC Get Schooled Facebook:

I'm a CSD parent, but do not know Ms. Riley. These nonsense accusations are, however, staggeringly familiar. Virtually every admirable woman I know who has worked in public service has been subject to on the job bullying, particularly those who make others feel threatened by their popularity and competence. These are exactly the kinds of weak accusations that are used against them. In a "right to work" state with authoritarian traditions, employees are particularly vulnerable, and yet those chased out are often precisely the people who we would want working with our kids. If Ms. Riley is cleared, she will have to decide whether to return to a toxic working environment. If she is not, this will send a clear message to other staff and teachers that they should be afraid: Is that a message we would want modeled to our kids?

eulb
eulb

@MaureenDowney The people who make the environment "toxic" are the ones who need to be ousted.  But if they are Ms Riley's superiors, that's not going to happen.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Seeing a public school employee stand up for herself is refreshing. Seeing her receive the support of the folks whom she has served for years is gratifying.

DunwoodyMom1
DunwoodyMom1

I read elsewhere, she was promised a promotion and the paperwork signed off by the former Superintendent, but somehow that papework "disappeared".  As you stated Maureen, those grievances you listed above are hardly ground for dismissal. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@DunwoodyMom1 Riley had asked the former superintendent to transfer her to technology since she worked so much in that area. The request apparently had been approved, or at least Riley assumed it was, but the paperwork was never signed, sealed and delivered as they say and Riley was pushing to make it happen. The new administration's official response to her requests was that the transfer/promotion had not been finalized and they were not going to follow through on it. However, that was not cited as one of the causes for her firing.

eulb
eulb

@MaureenDowney Thanks for adding the attorney's statement.  It provided context for this ugly situation. 

HollyJones
HollyJones

Seriously?!?!?  Those were the reasons for her termination?  Her reputation within the school and "at will" employment notwithstanding, how are those firing offenses on any level?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@HollyJones Her attorney seems to feel the same way. I think Dr. Dude had a manager complaining about a clerk and did not see the big picture. In this case, he gave the benefit of the doubt to the manager rather than the clerk, and that is proving a big mistake.

redweather
redweather

"She failed to follow her new manager’s job plan for her."


Her new manager may be a dunce, but it is always a good idea to get with the program even when it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Sadly, only so much free thinking is allowed in this world.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@redweather Given their meeting with the superintendent yesterday, Decatur High teachers would now probably agree with that statement about free thinkers.

HollyJones
HollyJones

@redweather New bosses sometimes decide to change things just for the sake of change, not because anything was really "broken" to begin with.  They feel the need to "put their stamp" on things.  I'm not sure that's the best way to manage folks.