Podl to Continue Leave


Grace Lougheed

English teacher Jody Podl, who attended Shaker schools and has taught in the district for 21 years, will not return to the classroom this year. At an August Board of Education meeting, she called on the administration to help the district move forward.

English teacher Jody Podl will not return to teach this year. She is continuing her medical leave. 

Last September, a parent complained that Podl was discriminating against a student because of their race. Shortly after, Podl was put on administrative leave, and two investigations, led by Dr. Marla Robinson, chief academic officer, former Assistant Superintendent Terri Breeden and former high school Principal Jonathan Kuehnle, were initiated.  

Robinson found no evidence of discrimination. Breeden reprimanded Podl for harassment and bullying, and the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association filed a due process grievance, charging that Breeden did not allow Podl an opportunity to address or respond to claims. The grievance went to arbitration April 22 and was sustained. The SHTA maintained that Breeden failed to give Podl due process by not allowing her to respond to the conclusions of the investigation. 

“It’s not really a choice. I just really wasn’t ready [to return], which is why I’m continuing my medical leave,” Podl said in an Aug. 18 interview. “A lot of times when you really love something, it gets really painful and makes it harder to recover from. When or if I come back, I want to be able to come back and really feel comfortable and ready to teach.”

According to the SHTA contract, “it shall be the responsibility of the administration to communicate openly and honestly to any member of SHTA bargaining unit any disagreement with his/her professional actions. Should such member not receive communication of the disagreement, the SHTA, when asked, will use its best efforts to clarify the situation. Prior to the issuance of any reprimand, warning or discipline, a teacher shall be advised of his/her right to SHTA representation. If a teacher is disciplined or reprimanded, he/she will be furnished with the information forming the bases for the disciplinary action.”

Mimi Ricinatti
Podl speaks at a Sen. Sherrod Brown press conference June 8, 2015 in the small auditorium. She discussed standardized testing.

Podl addressed the Board of Education during an Aug. 13 meeting.

She stated at the meeting, “Less than five hours after receiving a complaint, you opened two investigations. I didn’t even know a complaint had been made.”

The handling of the complaint caused an outcry in the community, when President of the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association Dr. John Morris released a letter stating that Podl was not given due process

An arbitrator upheld an SHTA grievance that was filed Nov. 8, on the basis of communication, academic freedom without interference and the lack of due process for Podl. The grievance was sustained as legitimate April 22.

“I hope the new administration will work to heal some rifts and really reflect on what happened and how to use it to make Shaker better. Whether that means new policies, having conversations or having some more training for everybody,” Podl said.

Podl said that there needs to be more communication and listening and that the goal of a conflict should not be proving if one is right or wrong, but rather to recognize different perspectives and work together to improve things. Approaching disagreements this way would help people move forward together, she said.

She stressed that the student and parents who complained are not at fault.

Podl has been in the school district since she was in kindergarten, when she attended Sussex Elementary School. She has taught in Shaker schools from 1994-2000 and then returned in 2006. While she was taking time off from 2000-2006, she taught at Ursuline College and John Carroll University, while tutoring at Shaker one day a week and working as a lunch aide at Mercer Elementary School.

Podl said, “I don’t want my story to be the story this year. I think the story should be about Shaker being better and I hope it will be. Just assuming that it’s over without having done anything about it doesn’t necessarily make Shaker better. If nothing else, I hope that’s something that people think about.”

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