PEORIA, IL -- Charter Oak School, an award winning grade school whose principal, John Wetterauer was removed by the Peoria District 150 School Board after high special education test scores were alleged to have been obtained by cheating, has apparently not recovered from the situation.
Two special education teachers were transferred after being accused of manipulating the test scores. Now their young pupils so far have had seven substitute teachers, parents at the School Board meeting said last night.
They spoke during the public comments session. Here is a recording of their comments:
If the board thought the Charter Oak advocates would give up and forget about losing their esteemed principal, it was wrong. A half-dozen spoke at the meeting, and received support from other activists.
Special education students need continuity, the parents said. "My child is coming home crying," one said.
Another said the 2nd grade children were forced to sit for 90 minutes to take a test, but children at other schools were allowed to take the same test in sections. Was the administration trying to generate poor test scores to prove that cheating had occurred, he asked.
"This won't blow over. Every day new voices come out of the woodwork," he said.
Activist Mimi McDonald said a different teacher every day is not appropriate for special education students. She urged the parents to immediately file for due process hearings for their children, their right under federal law. "When the state finds out every parent is doing due process, they will know we have a problem," she said.
McDonald also questioned why board member Laura Petelle, who spoke at a candidate forum on Feb. 9, said twice that she protected Washington gifted school. "Was it in danger?" McDonald asked.
Petelle left the meeting before McDonald spoke, causing McDonald afterwards to wonder whether she anticipated the question because it was written on the card McDonald was required to fill out and turn to speak.
Activist Sharon Crews questioned the report the board used to justify firing Wetterauer. a report written by the board's attorneys. It states that children at Mark Bills Middle School had turned over their desks in anger after demanding that they be given the type of testing help they had at Charter Oak.
That certainly was an inappropriate atmosphere for a test, Crews said, and may have caused them to make low scores. The report also does not state how many children were involved in the desk episode.
The comments from Crews are posted below, as she always writes hers then reads them.
Others criticized Supt. Grenita Lathan for following the Broad Foundation approach that encourages rotation of principals and teachers and other hard-nosed business-style tactics for schools. "Stop drinking the Broad Foundation Kool-Aid," one said.
Others criticized Lathan for creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation . "Teachers must be encouraged, not scared," a retired teacher and coach said.
He also urged the board to keep Peoria Stadium, and said it's the only covered high school stadium in the US.
A mental health professional told the board teachers have approached her because of the stress they are under. "They fear the superintendent and now know they cannot count on the school board," she said.
Then in an odd twist, a mother and father spoke about their child at Von Steuben Middle School who recently ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull and seizures. They have been unable to find out what happened at school, they said, and don't know whether the seizures came before he fell or afterwards, information vital to his treatment.
They described getting the runaround from administrators, whose refusal to allow them to speak with witnesses could be jeopardizing their child's health.
"We were treated like criminals," the mother said. "We want answers tonight or I am going to a lawyer tomorrow."
She mentioned "the union," as a problem, and said stories about what happened were changed to one story. But Peoria Federation of Teachers president Jeff Atkins-Dutro jumped up to say "don't put us out there."
"We have no answers as to what happened," the father said. "We have leased a new home outside of Peoria."
An administrator then approached the parents during the meeting to speak with them.
Board president Rick Cloyd said "if the process needs to be changed it will be."
Lathan responded to the comments by saying children and "people" are not targeted by the administration. "It's a difference of opinion," she said.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here are the comments from Sharon Crews:
An October, 2010, incident is now more meaningful to me than it was at the time. Not that long after Dr. Lathan arrived, I stated at a board meeting that I had heard that the district was no longer keeping tardy records for students—which would, also, mean no consequences for being late to class.”
Shortly after I made the comment Dr. Lathan and I both learned that the tardy policy had actually been mitigated during an earlier administration, and I don’t believe much has changed since then.
However, Dr. Lathan’s response to my comments sheds much light on today’s state of affairs. The day after the board meeting I received the first of only two phone calls I ever received from Dr. Lathan. Does anyone care to guess the purpose of her call? After exchanging a few pleasantries, Lathan cut to the chase and asked the name of the principal from whom I had received the information. I told her that I would not be giving her that information, to which she replied, “Aw, Sharon, come on.” She stated something to the effect of wanting to know which principal was undermining her. I hadn’t even mentioned a principal.
I didn’t realize it then, but a climate of retaliation against principals had begun and has ultimately led to the fiasco of retribution we are now witnessing at Charter Oak.
The Charter Oak website has found Dr. Lathan’s 2011 public comment stating, “In educational terms, I want to be a Broad Award winning school district.” I believe she has succeeded—tell me, do these Broad characteristics sound familiar:
Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.
A culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.
The school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent.
This time, in order to do Lathan’s bidding, you conducted a Kangaroo court-like investigation, which, according to definition, is held by a group to give the appearance of a fair and just trial, even though the verdict has already been decided.
Your lawyer interviewed the accused teachers and the students. What is legal or fair about your attorney representing you and reporting to us her interpretation of the interviews? We are asked to take your attorney’s word for everything. To my knowledge, the students had no representation or third party to witness the questioning procedure? If not illegal, it is certainly unethical—not showing any of the humanity expected of an educational institution. You got the answers you wanted but we don’t know the questions or the tone of voice or body language that elicited those answers.
Is there any time in the District’s history when children were used in such a manner to discipline a principal and teachers? Remember no one did any harm to these young people—they are just pawns in Lathan’s game of revenge—as are the rest of you seated around the horseshoe.
I do want to call attention to one of the more absurd accusations in the report. The accusation is that, during ISAT testing at Mark Bills, students turned over desks and pleaded with staff for inappropriate assistance on the assessment. And the blame for this aggressive behavior went to the Charter Oak teachers, who had not seen these students for 9 months. That’s a doozy of a blame game—you can’t be so duped as to buy into this accusation. Also, the report implies that all students turned their desks over—but, regardless of how many students, such an emotional environment would be a real disruption in testing that could completely change the final test results. Right there might be the explanation for the low test results. This kind of testing environment totally taints the test results and, therefore, the faulty conclusions drawn by your investigation.
Also, I am surprised that Dr. Lathan had any time in the spring of 2013 to prepare principals for the ISAT test. As I recall, she was busy collecting and recollecting books to be barcoded because she forgot students needed books to study for the test—she forgot the test. - 30-
Here is the Journal Star's story on the meeting.