District Let Down Lomond Students

By mishandling incident, administration and BOE unnecessarily disrupted kindergartners’ education; damaged relationship with teachers and parents; and showed troubling lack of transparency

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The district’s mishandling of a Jan. 9 incident at Lomond Elementary School came to a disappointing end last week.

Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. sent an email to Lomond parents and faculty Feb. 24 informing them that the district had decided to place kindergarten teacher Cathleen Grieshop on “administrative assignment” for the remainder of the school year. The district put Grieshop on administrative leave Jan. 9 after a student asked her to go to his locker and instead ventured outside the building, according to Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association President John Morris.

Hutchings wrote that Grieshop’s substitute, Angeli Meris, will teach the class “for the duration of the school year to provide continuity. Ms. Meris has done an excellent job thus far.”

If the district really valued providing the students with continuity, it would have found a long-term substitute more quickly — or better yet, reinstated Grieshop after an investigation lasting shorter than six weeks.”

However, it seems Hutchings was using the term “continuity” loosely. According to Communications Director Peggy Caldwell, Meris’ first day on the job was Feb. 13 — more than a month after Grieshop was placed on administrative leave. Her first day, a conference day, was followed by President’s Day and three school cancellations due to cold weather, meaning that when Hutchings sent his email, Meris had only taught the class three days. This pales in comparison to Greishop’s time with the class — the whole first half of the school year.

Clearly, the district did not make this decision so that the kindergarteners would have a teacher with whom they’re familiar for the rest of what has been an irreparably disrupted year — their first year in formal education, a crucial time for cognitive and emotional development. Grieshop’s class has had five different substitute teachers since the district placed her on administrative leave, according to Morris.

Hutchings has previously emphasized how much his kindergarten teacher, Dorothy McKenzie, influenced his future success. He included a letter of recommendation from her in his application for the superintendent post, and invited her to speak at his first staff convocation. Hutchings explained that she inspired him as a child when she told him he could be the first African-American president of the United States. It’s ironic that Hutchings’ administration is now denying these Lomond students the opportunity to form similarly enriching relationships with Grieshop, who by all accounts is a wonderful, caring teacher.

Heather Macks, a parent of one of Grieshop’s former students, sent an email to the board and Hutchings detailing her grievances about their handling of the situation, which she forwarded to The Shakerite. “You have discouraged a number of families BRAND NEW to the school and have us all questioning whether we should continue our children’s education in this system,” she wrote.

By putting her on administrative assignment, which will involve test proctoring and substitute teaching, the district appears to be punishing Grieshop, who it seems did nothing wrong.”

If the district really valued providing the students with continuity, it would have found a long-term substitute more quickly — or better yet, reinstated Grieshop after an investigation lasting shorter than six weeks.

Instead, the district’s treatment of Grieshop after the Jan. 9 incident has been peculiar, at best.

High School Principal Michael Griffith said no teachers or staff members were put on administrative leave or disciplined in any way after police arrested a student Sept. 10, 2013 for allegedly raping a classmate at school, a far more worrisome breach of safety. The student was later convicted.

Lomond parent Randi Nathenson said she knows several parents whose children have “gone missing at different times in Shaker schools.”

Lomond Principal Carina Freeman said in an email interview that she is not aware of any students leaving the building unattended besides the one in Grieshop’s class. However, Susie Bauer, a former first-grade teacher who substituted in Shaker elementary schools, including Lomond, told the Board of Education Feb. 10, “I know for a fact that there are other children [besides the one in Grieshop’s class] who have left the building, and I don’t recall any termination hearings scheduled.” She said she was concerned “a bigger agenda” seemed to be driving the administration’s handling of Grieshop’s case.

Morris agreed that the administration has treated Grieshop unfairly. “We felt that there was a possibility that personality differences [with Freeman] could have exacerbated this,” Morris said.

Freeman denied this claim. “The situation was not about personality differences. I have always found Ms. Grieshop to be a very likable person,” she wrote.

However, because the district has been about as opaque as possible throughout this mess, we have no other explanation for the administration’s incongruent, bewildering treatment of a dedicated 22-year teacher.

Because the district has been about as opaque as possible throughout this mess, we have no other explanation for the administration’s incongruent, bewildering treatment of a dedicated 22-year teacher.”

By putting her on administrative assignment, which will involve test proctoring and substitute teaching, the district appears to be punishing Grieshop, who it seems did nothing wrong. Morris said Grieshop realized her student was missing after five minutes and immediately called the main office, computer lab, lunchroom and aftercare. A neighbor found the student and called the police three minutes later.

“I know that this teacher was devastated by the fact that her student left the building, beside herself with concern, did everything at her disposal to find this student in lieu of actually leaving 17 students alone and trying to go outside to find him,” Morris said.

Furthermore, by allowing Grieshop to substitute this year and return to full-time teaching next year, the district is indicating that it trusts her ability to keep students safe. This, coupled with the fact that Meris had only taught the class three days by Feb. 24, makes an ulterior motive for putting Grieshop on administrative assignment seem likely. Caldwell said, “it is not yet known where [Grieshop] will be next year.” We’re guessing it won’t be Lomond.

Administrators have bungled this situation so badly that it caused a public outcry. Morris said the administration indicated to him that the Board of Education would vote on whether to terminate Grieshop at its Feb. 10 meeting, but later decided against it. During the meeting, Shaker teachers, parents and community members vehemently contested the prospect of Grieshop’s termination, and made it clear that their confidence in Hutchings and the board had deteriorated.

At the Feb. 10 board meeting, Clawson reassured the angry crowd that ‘there is a strong push for transparency.’ If this case is a preview of the rest of Clawson and Hutchings’ tenure, the district is pushing in the opposite direction.”

There, Board President Bill Clawson announced that Grieshop’s potential termination was not on the agenda for that day. Inexplicably, however, neither Hutchings nor Clawson told the packed crowd — so full that people resorted to sitting in the aisles and on the stage and standing 10-deep at the two small auditorium entrances — that the administration was still investigating the incident, and hadn’t yet decided whether to recommend that the board terminate Grieshop. In his email last week, Hutchings vaguely mentioned the importance of following the investigative “processes and procedures we already have in place.”

What are those procedures and why did they take more than six weeks? We don’t know. Both Hutchings and Human Resources Director Darlene Bushley declined to discuss how the district investigates incidents like this one and decides whether to discipline or terminate teachers, even in general terms. Clawson didn’t respond to a Feb. 16 email seeking comment on behalf of the board. Hutchings told The Shakerite in an email March 2, “We will no longer discuss the incident from January 9.” No explanation provided.

At the Feb. 10 board meeting, Clawson reassured the angry crowd that “there is a strong push for transparency.” If this case is a preview of the rest of Clawson and Hutchings’ tenure, the district is pushing in the opposite direction.

The one slightly encouraging part of Hutchings’ email was his promise to review security practices districtwide. We hope he does. Unfortunately, there’s reason to doubt whether he will follow through. Hutchings has yet to announce the safety plan he promised he would have finished before the start of this school year. He must now redeem himself by delivering serious reforms to a clearly inferior security system and repairing the administration’s severely damaged relationship with disillusioned teachers and parents.

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