Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Unprincipled Principal

The unethical way that Chicago high school principal Irene DaMota left her students and staff in the lurch really irks me:
Chicago's inspector general of schools is looking into the "odd" string of sick and personal days that preceded former Clemente Principal Irene DaMota's Brazilian vacation, giving her a 33-day scheduled break from a high school battling rising violence.

Some were shocked and others were outraged by DaMota's decision last week to e-mail officials in the middle of what DaMota called a "short" vacation in "sunny, balmy Brazil" with notice that she was resigning, effective the very next day.

However, one colleague said DaMota, a native of Argentina, had long planned to retire from Chicago Public Schools and then work for a private school in Brazil. In addition, before joining CPS 31 years ago, she had served as principal of another private school in Brazil.

Payroll records indicated last week that DaMota, 56, was scheduled to start her vacation Feb. 14 and return to Clemente on March 9, officials said. However, due to a more than weeklong mix of personal days, sick days, a holiday and normal weekends, her last day of work was actually Friday, Feb. 3, officials said.

After that, DaMota took a personal business day on Monday, Feb. 6, followed by two sick days that Tuesday and Wednesday; a personal business day that Thursday, and another sick day that Friday, officials said records showed.

The next Monday was a school holiday -- Lincoln's Birthday. The next day, Feb. 14, DaMota's vacation officially began.

"It's unusual to intersperse sick and personal days, especially right before a vacation,'' schools Inspector General James Sullivan said Friday. "It looks odd, but it may be completely innocent. We will follow up to see if there's any impropriety.''

However, he noted that teachers and principals are only supposed to take sick days when they -- or a close relative -- are sick.

On Feb. 21, DaMota mentioned to local school council members over an Internet connection from Brazil that she had not had a vacation in 1-1/2 years, one parent said.

But some questioned how she could resign so abruptly in the middle of what they called an unusually violent year. CPS data show Clemente, at 1147 N. Western, experienced more violent incidents in the first five months of this year than in all of last school year.
During DaMota's absence, at least one student was hospitalized from a fight outside the school and scores of kids left early the next day, fearing a rumored planned shooting. Afterward, at least 15 police cars sat outside the school for two days in a row, CPS officials said.

But DaMota didn't care about any of that. Her only interest was being in sunny South America in time to celebrate Brazil's Carnival.

Now that she's gone, the district is getting around to auditing the books of DaMota's school for any "discrepencies." This is a little like closing the barn's door after the horse has already bolted. Only in this case, the horse took a few thousand dollars in the form of ill-gotten "sick-day" and vacation pay in its saddlebags.

Of course nobody is addressing the major concern: How could a key campus administrator miss so many school days without any red flags being raised?

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