Decatur Superintendent reconsiders decision to fire popular Decatur High media clerk
This story has been updated.
City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude is reconsidering his decision to terminate Susan Riley, a popular media clerk at Decatur High.
Dude said he is bringing in a third-party to review his decision. Riley will be placed on paid administrative leave pending a “full and impartial review.”
The Decatur School Board is also holding an emergency executive session Sunday evening, Feb. 28, to discuss the matter.
Riley’s sudden termination on Friday created an uproar among Decatur High students, alumni parents and staff. There’s a rally planned on Riley’s behalf on Monday morning. The rally will go forward as planned.
Here is the full statement from Dude concerning his decision to revisit the termination:
Over the last two days, some significant accusations have been raised regarding the validity of the investigation, and resulting information, that led to the termination of Mrs. Riley’s employment. In fairness to all involved, I have suspended the termination and provided Mrs. Riley with paid leave while I bring a third party in to conduct a full and impartial review. Appropriate action will be taken based on the outcome of the review.
If you have any questions or concerns related to this matter, please contact me, your principal, or your direct supervisor.
Dude’s earlier decision to fire Riley left many in the Decatur High community baffled and outraged. Riley is a revered figure among students and staff. When she received the Hometown Hero award in 2011, she was described as, “the heart of the school.”
“Students with no mothers of their own, students facing disciplinary problems, students unable to manage the stress of studies, in over their heads, or without a parent or friend to lean on go to Susan, who makes the media center at the high school – and especially her small office there – a haven where no one is judged, everyone is listened to, and all students are praised and encouraged,” the nomination accompanying the Hometown Hero award says.
Riley was not told why she was fired.
Dude has been unable to discuss the circumstances that led to Riley’s abrupt termination, because it is a personnel issue. Based on numerous emails, it appears Riley was up for a promotion which had been in the works under Dude’s predecessor, Phyllis Edwards. Dude took over as superintendent in November of last year.
Tom Stubbs, a local attorney who has been rallying the community to Riley’s defense, said in a widely-distributed email, “Outgoing Superintendent Edwards told Susan on Sept. 11 of last year that she (Dr. Edwards) had approved the upgrade from media clerk to media and tech assistant. The paperwork for that promotion disappeared, however. Superintendent Edwards reasonably does not recall all the details of what happened, but she did report to Susan this week that she remembered checking with the principal and HR about it – and these were the primary hurdles the promotion had to clear – and that there had been no objection. The promotion was never provided, however.”
According to Stubbs, Riley also “reported having difficulties” with two other employees at the school, but Stubbs alleges Riley’s reports were disregarded by CSD’s Human Resources Department.
A public controversy over what is an otherwise private personnel issue put the School Board and its new superintendent in an uncomfortable spot. Prior to Dude’s announcement that he was revisiting his decision to fire Riley, Decaturish asked if the School Board could overrule his decision. Board members usually do not get involved in personnel decisions, though members have undoubtedly been bombarded with messages over the weekend.
The board votes to approve employee hires and separations at each meeting, but this vote is always to approve all the hires and separations that have recently occurred. We wanted to know whether the board could overrule an individual personnel decision by the superintendent.
School Board member Bernadette Seals said she wasn’t sure.
“Technically our job is to approve or disapprove termination decisions,” Seals said. “I’d have to double check on that.”
Dude, speaking to Decaturish before Sunday’s executive session, said he doesn’t think the School Board has the ability to overturn his personnel decisions.
“Part of the board code of ethics is they don’t intervene in hiring, transfers and terminations,” Dude said. “So I don’t know. This is the first actual termination I’ve had here, so I’m not sure what the process has been in the past.”