Teacher sues Enterprise BOE, Superintendent

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Coffee County Circuit Court, a Harrand Creek third grade teacher charges that her rights were violated under Alabama law in connection with her recent 20-day suspension without pay.

Charged with denying Sonya A. Dean of her due process and equal protection under the law are Enterprise Schools Superintendent Dr. Camille Wright and Board of Education members Gloria Jones, Bert Barr, Ross Cotter, Doug Vickers and Dorothy Richardson, all sued both in their official capacities and individually.

Dean charges that she was wrongly suspended without pay for 20 days from Oct. 22 through Nov. 19 of this year and that her suspension cost her to lose $5,494.20 in pay.

The lawsuit cites an Oct. 8 meeting during which Dean and her attorney, Carmen Howell of Enterprise, met with Wright, BOE Director of Personnel Dr. Irma Townsend, BOE attorney Merrill Shirley, and Harrand Creek Elementary School Principal Ronnie Retherford.

The purpose of the meeting, according to the lawsuit, was to inform Dean of Wright’s recommendation to the BOE regarding allegations against Dean by both Harrand Creek School Custodian Eric Brown and a man who is the father of the child who was alleged to have been struck by Dean.

The two men allege that Dean struck the child on the neck during a classroom test. The student and one other student were the only remaining students in the class and the child in question was asleep at her desk during the time she was supposed to be taking the test, according to the lawsuit.

Dean said that at the meeting— during which, she said, she was “intimidated and browbeat”— she asked about the possibility of appealing the superintendent’s recommendation for suspension and the board attorney replied that an appeal “could be more severe on you and more negative information could come out against you.”

The lawsuit cites the example of another teacher—whose father is employed at the BOE Central Office— who was suspended without pay. The reason for that suspension was kept confidential.

“Exhibit B” of the lawsuit includes part of the minutes of the May 13 BOE meeting which reads, “Dr. Wright recommended that Mr. David Keel, a teacher at one of our schools, be suspended for seven days without pay. The reason said suspension and leave without pay was set forth in the sheet presented to the board, the sheet entitled, ‘Suspension.’ Mr. Vickers moved that the board approve the superintendent’s recommendation. Ms. Jones made a second and the board voted 4 to 0 to approve the suspension.”

Also included in the lawsuit is “Exhibit A” which is The Southeast Sun’s internet article about the BOE meeting in question.

Dean then compared that confidentiality to the fact that the charge against her was read by Wright, in its entirety, out loud— at a school board meeting. The action, the suit said, was one of “malice, ill will and mean spiritedness.”

In her suit, Dean asks the court to order restitution in the form of the pay lost during the 20-day suspension and to order Wright to issue a public apology to Dean.

Dean asks further that Wright explain why she “observed the good name and character,” of the other suspended employee and why she was not afforded that same right.

(1) comment

Stan

I am not surprised at this at all. I was at this board meeting and the way it was handled was much different than other similar personnel issues have been handled in the past as indicated in the article. Public bullying and intimidation was the perception I got. I do not know any of the facts in the case other than what I heard at the meeting and read in the subsequent news reports but the way it was handled was out of line, in my opinion. Whether it broke any laws or not will be decided in the lawsuit if it moves forward. Laws can be applied with malice toward none. In this case the perception I got was the accused was presumed guilty and there was no chance to change that presumption. There was no presumed innocent here at all. It also seemed rather hypocritical to adjourn to executive session to protect the "good name and character" of the accused when that had already been publicly tainted at best.

If this is indicative of how other issues are handled now in Enterprise City Schools then it is understandable if teachers feel intimidated and are not speaking out when they disagree with management decisions they are required to implement. Having to watch your back instead of knowing your managers and superiors have your back is not a desirable environment for the teachers and administrators and, ultimately, the students.

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