Lightning Strikes Twice
A few years back, the press reported my “whistle blowing” behavior in Richmond, VA. I, as a special education teacher, exposed the corrupt behavior of the Henrico County Public School administrators following the acts of an abusive teacher in their employ. I lifted the lumpy rug and exposed how they simply “hushed” the truth and quietly ushered the nasty and very guilty teacher out of their district with a nice letter of recommendation and her license intact. Shocked and outraged, I elicited the help of a co-worker and one of the eye-witnesses and together we reported the abuse to the authorities, supported the families of the victims and then went about the business of pointing a big, accusatory finger at our bosses. That was back in 2003. Betty Moore eventually pleaded guilty in open court to child abuse and was sentenced to jail. Having lost her license to teach, she is now a receptionist at an emergency care office in Richmond.
My Richmond story includes how the district bullies tried to shut me up by threatening to fire me. I hired a constitutional law attorney who actually, in turn, shut them up. When I received a certified letter at home one day, I quickly opened it to find that it contained all of their tried and true written versions of intimidation with a formal reprimand, to boot. I happily faxed it to my favorite newspaper reporter who ran quotes from it in the Richmond Times Dispatch within a few days with the heading, “Teacher Who Reported Abuse Reprimanded”. That went over real well for the shocked “suits” when the public outrage followed.
My daily mantra back then ~and forever will be~ is as follows: “Just because I am a teacher (doing all that altruistic and “near missionary” work with children) does NOT mean that I check my civil rights or civil responsibility at the door!”
Successful and satisfied in my efforts of surviving the wrath of a wide variety of Public School Administrators in Virginia’s capital city, I was still tired and disgusted by the time the dust settled. I felt like leaving but I stayed for another year, deciding that I would leave only after the bad guys did. That was to demonstrate that I had done nothing wrong. As it turned out, Henrico’s Superintendent, Asst. Superintendent, Principal and an assortment of other “good old boys” left well before I decided to resign under my own steam. While I can’t take full credit for the collective “Bully-Be-Gone” exodus, I can enjoy the fact that my efforts to expose their dark ways to the light of day did, indeed, play a part in it. It felt good but I put it all behind me, looking forward to the next phase of my life and career. So when I was good and ready and mostly for the pure adventure of it, I decided to move to the East Coast.
Fast-forward to present day: I now live in New York City where I am the named Plaintiff in a Federal Lawsuit filed against a wealthy Westchester County school district and a variety of individuals. The suit is (big surprise here) based on the infringement of my basic civil rights.
Background for suit: After I left Richmond, I moved to the NYC area and continued my teaching career in Westchester County. For three years, I devoted myself to the special needs students served by their public school district in a quiet, affluent and picturesque village in NY, where the majority of the residents commute into the city for their fast-paced careers. Yep, for 3 years I parked in front of a gorgeous old neighborhood school sitting on a tree-lined street. Every morning I looked up at it and smiled as I entered the heavy front doors of this historic building dating back slightly more than 100 years. But the folks got as good as they gave since I poured my heart and soul into my work for this Long Island Sound community. I was enjoying my new life as a teacher in a district that seemed to actually put their money where their mouth was. All was well and I didn’t look back.
But then, early into my third year, my smile began to fade. A year prior and during my second year, a new Superintendent, had entered the scene and I got a vibe from him that was creepily reminiscent of the guy who thought he didn’t need to answer to anybody in Richmond. But I tried to stay positive and just “do my job”, thinking that lightning could not possibly strike twice. But then during that third year, things changed and changed fast. A new Principal (hired by the new Superintendent) as well as a new Asst. Principal took over the leadership of the school and it wasn’t long before the culture, the tone and the value system began to cloud over with hidden agendas, secret meetings, and the creation of factions designed to divide and conquer. Funny how these tactics are always used in the course of action when leadership is weak and the individual leaders are insecure.
Before I could say, “Betty Moore” I was at the center of a whirlwind of negative energy and I recognized that I was the focus of a targeted attack. I had no theories for why this was happening to me but, suddenly it made sense. I was struck by this unfortunate realization when I got wind that one of the newly formed “Faction Leaders” (my school’s own power-hungry school psychologist) had been busy googling people. When she entered my name, she was rewarded with a “hit” that offered her information that she could twist and spin into a new nickname and persona for me, that of a “troublemaker”. She took this information to the new, inept and overwhelmed Principal and off they ran with it, using it to undermine me and an entire team of colleagues with whom I shared a healthy collaborative spirit. What an unhealthy pair we all witnessed in the Fall of 2006, once they formed their sick alliance! Together they began to wreak havoc in the lives of teachers, students and parents, all within the halls of my school, the proclaimed “jewel of the School District”.
At this point, my story takes a series of twists and turns that sound too incredulous to be true. When I declined to sign Assistant Principal’s Administrative Observation Report and, instead, wrote a rebuttal to it, this woman with impressive credentials and a quiet manner simply picked up a pen and signed her name and then she signed mine. She has never admitted to forging my name and has, repeatedly denied it and even claimed that I staged it. The district has never investigated it and the local police deemed it only a “Suspicious Act”, not a crime. I, on the other hand, hired a Forensic Document Examiner who is willing to testify in court that she did, indeed, sign her name and forge mine, a felony under other normal circumstances of real law.
The Axe Falls and the Halls Become Quiet. Of the total 5 or 6 tenure candidates at my school for the academic year 2006-07, I was the only one who did not receive tenure. Also, by this time, very few staff members would speak to me or barely even look at me. When the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, gave me the bad news with one of her supporters sitting quietly by, she strongly suggested that I resign. I refused to play that game in the typical, excuse-ridden, face-saving way, so they pulled out the big axe and on June 12, 2007, at the public School Board Meeting, I was terminated. Again, I stood alone in that teacher category. Actually, I did not stand alone since when I decided to attend the meeting that night, I had some company. Alongside me were my husband and a collection of close colleagues, co-workers and an impressive showing of supportive parents. Two of my merry band actually formally addressed the board that night on my behalf. Even though the tiered room was almost empty by that time (per their savvy scheduling manipulations) I’ll be eternally grateful to the speakers because it gave me the dignity and the voice that the district bullies had attempted, over months and months, to take from me.
Since then, I have suffered immeasurably just as you and all our co-victims across the country have also suffered. It is now March ’08 and all my job search efforts over the last 11 months have resulted in only a 3 month leave replacement position for me. More than a paycheck, I have missed being with kids everyday doing what I believe is the most satisfying and stimulating job on the planet. I haven’t found anything that excites me like those moments when you see your efforts manifest in the success of a student who is fighting the battle against an uneven playing field while trying to fit in, look normal, act typical and not fall apart all at the same time! That’s when you know you are where you are supposed to be…in that classroom with that student at that moment. That’s what I miss everyday between the hours of 9 am and 3 o’clock.
Luckily, for me, though and what is not often the case for the victims of White Chalk Crime, is that I have the recourse of filing a federal lawsuit. Mine was filed on April 10th, 2007 and that was the day that I realized I could possibly be a small part of the future solution to this chronically abusive system, rather than just another forlorn victim shuffling off into oblivion. So now I find myself sitting through depositions rather than IEP meetings and researching my personally documented notes from my very real nightmare instead of the latest intervention strategies or recent scientific findings related to students diagnosed with autism. I’d much prefer to be discussing the needs of my special students rather than the disgusting behavior of the school administrators that, unfortunately, run the programs that decide the fate of too many teachers and their expectant students.
As I’m being guided through this legal process, I have the peace of mind in knowing that I was lucky enough to be accepted as a client by a practice of firmly feared attorneys in White Plains, NY. These guys and gals specialize in fighting bullies in suits and they have the winning record to prove it. Many corrupt public agency administrators have had to answer the difficult queries under oath as posed by John Lovett and Jane Gould of Lovett and Gould, LLP, Attorneys At Law.
I’ve used the “B” word repeatedly and that hasn’t been an accident. Try as I may, I can’t find a substitute for it. It’s short, not-so-sweet, unsophisticated and to the point. As teachers, we all hate Bullies. I’ve left a few squashed in my path during my 15 years of teaching and I claim those teaching moments as my most rewarding accomplishments. When it comes to this behavior, our most important effort is to teach our students that it is pure evil at work when someone is receiving satisfaction at the discomfort of others. So I ask myself, “Where were these lessons in the lives of the above named administrators that I’ve had the misfortune of meeting in my relatively short teaching life?”
Because somebody was teaching these critical lessons to (the then) future administrators. I know this because I’ve known a number of school administrators who either mastered the lessons or didn’t need them; fine, honest, real deal, child-centered educators who never forgot life in the trenches or the joy of putting a child at ease when the demands were too high or even out of reach. I want to know more of them and, in the not-too-distant future, work side-by-side with them, again. That’s my personal goal. But for now, I’m fighting the good fight.
Anonymous only for a while teacher