Wednesday, October 04, 2006

EduCivil War In Illinois!

An Illinois superintendent is in the center of a firestorm of controversy that has all the makings of an EduCivil War or Prime-time Soap Opera: (take your pick)
The superintendent of Bremen High School District 228--recently criticized for making public an outlandish video spoof on new teachers--was suspended indefinitely with pay Tuesday night, the same day he said he was being discriminated against because of his sexual orientation.

Boos greeted the 5-2 vote by the school board after an executive session to suspend Richard Mitchell. He had drawn a group of parents and students wearing white T-shirts that read "Gleason resign now" on the front and "We love our superintendent" on the back. Evelyn Gleason is president of the school board.

Earlier Tuesday, Mitchell said the school board was trying to push him out because he is gay. His attorney, Jim Madigan, said he plans to file a sexual orientation discrimination charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights this week.

Mitchell has been routinely undermined by the school board, led by Gleason, who has made it her goal to oust him, Madigan said. "We have multiple witnesses who will say that his sexual orientation is the reason for Gleason's opposition to him," Madigan said.

Divisions over Mitchell were evident at the meeting.

Kathy Novak of Posen, who has a student at Bremen High School, led the group of supporters.

"I'm upset about the fact that this [segregation of the board members] has been going on for 11 months," Novak said. "It's been arguing and fighting because they want to get rid of Dr. Mitchell. It hasn't been about our kids, it's been about Evelyn Gleason trying to get rid of Dr. Mitchell."

Janet Olson of Oak Forest, who has two children attending Oak Forest High School, sees things differently.

"The superintendent needs to be held to a higher standard. If my children did such a thing, putting a video on a Web site talking about killing, the police would have been involved by now and certainly suspended."

The video, created by Mitchell, spliced joke questions into videotaped interviews with new teachers in an attempt to bring levity to the beginning of the school year, his attorney said.

One new teacher told Mitchell his favorite movie was "Predator." When Mitchell recut the tape, he made it seem as though the teacher identified himself as a predator. Others were made to seem like drug users and killers and to have emotional problems.

Madigan said the video was meant in jest and that teachers found it so funny they asked Mitchell to make it available to watch again.

Raymond Hauser, an attorney representing the district, said before the meeting the video posting rankled the board.

"He's grasping at straws," Hauser said. "I think suddenly they are playing the gay card. It's like saying, `Because I'm gay, you can't discipline me and I can do whatever I want.' I didn't know that an alternative lifestyle was an excuse for poor professional judgment."

The board that hired Mitchell in 2004 gave him a contract to expire in 2007. It was later extended by two years, but that was negated by the new board after the 2005 election.

Hauser said Mitchell sued the districtin April for violating his extended contract and for not agreeing to pay for his pursuing another doctorate.

"Not once did he ever mention being gay as an issue," Hauser said of the lawsuit, which the district is seeking to have dismissed.

Ruth Becker and Verla Clevenger were the two board members voting against suspending Mitchell.

Clevenger said the board had been trying to micromanage the district.

"There is nothing wrong with Dr. Mitchell," she said before the meeting. "It's the administration. It's because of his lifestyle."
Out here in California's "Imperial" Valley, our school boards tend to be little more than rubber-stamps for well-entrenched superintendents.
See our latest EduPosts here, today's Extra Credit Reading here, and this week's edition of The Carnival of Education over there.