School Board, under pressure from supporters of fired media clerk, asks for patience
It was a packed house during the March 8 Decatur School Board meeting as several speakers signed up to speak in favor of Susan Riley, a media clerk who was fired and later placed on administrative leave.
Several media organizations were in attendance, which is unusual for a City Schools of Decatur Board of Education meeting.
But the School Board made no announcements regarding the promised impartial review of the case. Board Chair Annie Caiola asked for patience and trust, something that has been eroded by the controversy.
“The board knows that Susan Riley is someone who has indisputably made significant contributions to our school system,” Caiola said. “We appreciate your understanding that the School Board cannot comment on personnel matters, but we can say this. There are rumors and other statements that are circulating which are simply not true. It is extremely unsettling for us as a board to not be able to set the record straight, so to speak. Though we can also say this. We are not only committed to doing what is legal, as we know that’s a minimal requirement, but the board and [Superintendent David] Dude is committed to doing what is right, by all of its staff members, including Ms. Riley. For that reason due to the unique circumstances surrounding this incident, Dr. Dude will honor his promise to engage an impartial third party to review the facts that led to Ms. Riley’s termination, and Dr. Dude will take appropriate action following the conclusion of that review.”
It’s still not clear why Riley was fired. Her attorney, David Hughes, said his client was fired for four reasons, including misappropriating school equipment, failing to adhere to a new job plan, inappropriately complaining about her coworkers’ alleged mistreatment of her and for discussing a human resources complaint into her allegations. Hughes said on Tuesday evening a reviewer had not been named.
After the news of the firing broke, students, staff and community members organized a large rally on Riley’s behalf.
The people who spoke on Riley’s behalf during Tuesday’s meeting said things have changed at CSD. The system has become more bureaucratic and uncaring, they said. One speaker made reference to last year’s controversy surrounding Noel Maloof, the former Decatur High Principal who was promoted to Chief Operating Officer as Dude’s predecessor, Phyllis Edwards, was on the way out.
That wasn’t the only change that occurred. CSD’s Human Resources Director Caroline Wood submitted her resignation last year, and has been replaced by David Adams. When the controversy over Riley first erupted on the weekend of Feb. 26, Dude directed questions to himself and Adams.
“Somehow our procedures became so bureaucratic and indifferent that Susan Riley’s 19 years of pure dedication, incredible work ethic and a commitment to children is erased,” Mary Rigger told the School Board. “It seems as though the central office has become a black hole where the voices, concerns and rights of faculty and staff get obliterated. We need to improve the system. We need a fair process where concerns, complaints and issues can be vetted without fear of retaliation from one’s superior. Last year numerous complaints and concerns were filed relating to issues at the high school. The result was they all got wrapped up in a shroud of secrecy. This year Susan Riley approached the department of human resources with concerns of a workplace situation involving her superiors and the result could be easily perceived that she got fired for raising those concerns, the ultimate penalty. Yet gain, those with the power kept their power.”
Sara Norman, a 2014 grad, said she witnessed the cultural changes at Decatur HIgh first-hand. As teachers at the school tried to adapt, Riley was a refuge, she said.
“I think that the termination of Ms. Riley is the most ridiculous example of CSD’s priorities so far,” she said.
Tom Stubbs, a local attorney who has been a vocal critic of Riley’s firing and the school system’s handling of it, said he’s confident Riley will be reinstated.
“In three weeks Susan is going to be exonerated,” he said. “Susan Riley knows only how to lie on only one occasion, and that’s when a student asks her, ‘Are you too busy?'”