Dismissed Principal Accuses CPS Of Trying To Silence Outspoken Principals | WBEZ
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Dismissed Principal Accuses CPS Of Trying To Silence Outspoken Principals

A Chicago Public Schools principal is challenging how the school district fires principals as well as accusing it of trying to silence principals in a series of legal steps that could have far-reaching consequences for school leaders.

Principal Michael Beyer, who ran Ogden International School on Chicago’s Gold Coast until his removal last month, filed a human rights complaint Wednesday against the school district with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. And earlier this month, he sued the school district. Beyer charges the school district with failing to afford him due process and accuses it of targeting him for speaking out.

CPS did not respond directly to the lawsuit or the complaint. But a statement from CPS spokesman Michael Passman reiterated that Beyer is facing termination after a CPS inspector general report found he “oversaw the intentional falsification of attendance records and failed to act with professional integrity.” The inspector general recommended Beyer be terminated.

CPS officials also said the school district follows due process requirements set out in the Illinois School Code. They did not address the accusation that the district is trying to silence outspoken principals.

Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, has raised similar concerns about a lack of due process for principals. He says the association is focusing its legal strategy on this issue.

In addition, several principals, including LaRaviere, have been fired after speaking out on school issues.

In early November, Beyer was “reassigned to home” by the school district pending dismissal proceedings. School district officials contend their move to fire Beyer comes as a result of the CPS’ inspector general’s report that found students at his school were unenrolled, rather than marked absent.

Beyer is represented pro bono by Bill Quinlan, whose son attended Ogden.

“To me, this is much bigger than just him,” Quinlan said.

The human rights complaint charges Chicago Public Schools is trying to fire Beyer for speaking out against CPS. It says “CPS is pursuing termination as retaliation after creating a hostile environment for whistle blowing.”

It points to a warning resolution against Beyer in 2015. One of the “directives for improvement” in the warning resolution reads: “Do not take a public stance that is in defiance of any directive, guideline or rule issued” by the school district.

“They take this to a whole different level, where you can’t even criticize,” Quinlan said. “That is scary. You can’t say, ‘Hey, we need to do a better job.’”

The lawsuit filed by Beyer and members of Ogden’s Local School Council argues the dismissal process lacks any stated rules and it accuses the district of failing to give Beyer complete information on why he is being fired. For example, he has yet to receive an unredacted version of the inspector general’s report.

In addition, the lawsuit contends Beyer was not given proper warning “of his alleged failure to follow CPS’ attendance record policies.”

According to the lawsuit, CPS is pointing to the 2015 warning resolution as evidence of a warning. But the lawsuit notes the warning resolution is unrelated to attendance fraud.  

The warning resolution came after Beyer posted a message on Facebook asking parents to help clean the school over the weekend. After privatizing custodial services, the school district faced a litany of complaints about filthy schools.

School district officials called the post “unbecoming of a principal.”

While the Facebook post was the stated reason for the warning resolution, the human rights complaint argues CPS officials were also sending a message to Beyer to stop complaining about cuts to special education. He was organizing principals to collectively address the cuts.

Beyer is not the first to challenge a dismissal in recent years. The principal of Gale Elementary School last year sued CPS, alleging that the dismissal process was unfair and accusing the district of targeting longtime black women principals. A federal judge found she could not contest the process because she signed a settlement agreement, but she is appealing.

Her lawyer, Eric Onyango, said she signed the agreement because she thought she was protecting her record.

Also, a principal who was fired this summer has also filed a lawsuit.

Beyer’s removal was controversial for a number of reasons. This year, Ogden International School, which serves many affluent families, merged with another school serving mostly low-income children. Dozens of parents turned out at a community meeting Beyer said was needed to help the school through a merger that has been rocky at times.

Parents also have rallied behind Beyer, publicly doubting the rationale for his removal. The attendance fraud hinges on Beyer telling parents to withdraw students who were planning long absences, ostensibly so it wouldn’t hurt the school’s attendance rate. However, several parents have said they did this on their own and were not encouraged by Beyer.  

Beyer is the second principal since CPS CEO Janice Jackson took over in January known to be removed after the inspector general found records were falsified. The first principal also was vocal about problems within the school district. Prior to Jackson’s tenure, the inspector general uncovered several instances of falsifying records and rarely were principals fired.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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