In a twist on usual school suspension news, it was the principals of 2 elementary schools from Jefferson County, Kentucky who were suspended the first day of school this year. More than 400 children arrived home late, some as late as 9 pm, on the first day of school, August 17, due to improper recording of information on student destination lanyards.
In announcing the suspenions of the 2 principals, school superintendant Sheldon Berman noted that at 87 out of 90 schools, the lanyards students wore resulted in timely rides home on correct buses with few glitches. At the schools run by principals Julia Lewis (King Elementary) and Sonya Unseld (Lincoln Elementary), incorrect lanyards caused students to be sent on wrong bus routes while blank lanyards delayed bus departures since bus drivers are not allowed to transport students without completed lanyards.
Berman told the Courier Journal, “I will not make excuses for what happened yesterday. Students getting home as such a late hour is absolutely unacceptable. I offer my sincerest apologies to the students and parents who had to endure an evening filled with anxiety and frustration.”
The principal of the third elementary school that had lanyard problems was not suspended as she took timely action to remedy the problems when they surfaced.
In 2006, more than 3.3 million student suspensions from public elementary and secondary schools occurred in the United States. (Because some students received multiple suspensions, this statistic doesn’t identify the actual number of students suspended in that year. ) But the U.S. doesn’t publish statistics on the number of principals suspended from schools for misconduct or incompetence. With the day to day well-being of some 50 million public school children entrusted more than 83,900 public school principals nationwide, shouldn’t the government track consequences for inadequate principal performance or malfeasance?
While Lewis and Unseld are among the first principals suspended from public schools this school year, principal suspensions are not entirely uncommon. And some of the causes underlying principal suspensions indicate serious dereliction of duty.
In the 2009-2010 school year, the principal of Litchfield Elementary School in Arizona was suspended after angry parents protested a mocking letter he wrote as an alleged joke for teachers. The letter referred to students as “stupid” and “lazy” and said they should imitate a “crazed masochist” on a field trip so that a child with a nervous tic who hits himself in the face wouldn’t feel conspicuous.
The principal of Oakwood Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia was suspended last year after an anti-abortion staff member distributed fetus dolls to children with placards describing early fetal development. A climate study of the school was already underway due to allegations reported through the American Civil Liberties Union that the principal invited her pastor to conduct prayer sessions at the school and organized prayer groups for students to pray for success on state competency tests.
The principal at Normandy Crossing Elementary School in Galena Park, Texas was one of 7 staff members suspended last year in a testing scandal in which student scores on state proficiency exams were allegedly changed.
Shouldn’t an understanding how common principal suspensions are and the reasons for them underlie public school accountability efforts?
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