Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Daniel v. Huntsville City Board of Education

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

April 11, 2018

BRENDA L. DANIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
HUNTSVILLE CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Plaintiff, Brenda Daniel, a former employee of the Huntsville City Board of Education (“the Board”), asserts that she was subjected to unlawful race discrimination, retaliation, and a racially hostile work environment, and she seeks redress for those alleged wrongs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants to her claims are the Board; Eugene C. “Casey” Wardynski, the former Superintendent, who is sued in his individual capacity; and Presonia Lynette Alexander, the former Principal of Westlawn Middle School, who is sued in her individual capacity. Plaintiff also asserts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) a supplemental state law claim against defendant Alexander for tortious interference with her business relationship with the Board.[1] The case currently is before the court on motions for summary judgment filed by the Board, [2] Alexander, [3] and Wardynski.[4]Upon consideration of the briefs and evidentiary submissions, the court concludes that all motions for summary judgment are due to be granted.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment is proper “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the non-(holding that “§ 1983 contains the sole cause of action against state actors for violations of § 1981”). Plaintiff's complaint originally also asserted her federal claims against the individual members of the Board, in their respective individual capacities, but those claims were dismissed on April 6, 2017. See doc. no. 20. moving party are not unqualified, however. “[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is ‘only a guess or a possibility, ' for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but is pure conjecture and speculation.” Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,

[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.

Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (asking “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law”).

         II. SUMMARY OF FACTS

         A. Plaintiff's Employment at Westlawn Middle School

         Plaintiff, Brenda L. Daniel, is a white female. She applied for a teaching position with the Huntsville City School System during the summer of 2014.[5] She was hired to replace a seventh grade math teacher at Westlawn Middle School during August of that same year.[6] A review committee selected three applicants to interview for the position, and defendant Lynette Alexander, the black female Principal of Westlawn, conducted in-person interviews of each applicant.[7] Principal Alexander recommended plaintiff for hire, and the Board approved the selection.[8] Plaintiff began teaching at Westlawn on August 25, 2014, three weeks after the 2014-15 school year had begun.[9]

         During the 2014-15 school year, Westlawn was characterized as a “turn-around school, ” meaning that its test scores had been in the bottom ten percent of the State, and the school had received a five-million-dollar federal School Improvement Grant to help turn the school around.[10] As part of those efforts, eighty percent of the school faculty had been changed during the 2012-13 school year. The Board also was required to hire consultants to train teachers on discipline plans, strategic planning, following lesson plans, and other classroom issues.[11]

         Plaintiff signed an agreement on October 16, 2014, to provide “Extended Learning Time” tutorial services in addition to her regular classroom teaching duties. Micah Fisher, the Human Resources Manager, also signed the agreement on behalf of the Board. The agreement stated:

WHEREAS, the undersigned Brenda Daniel (hereinafter “Daniel”) is employed with the Huntsville City Board of Education (hereinafter “Board”); and
WHEREAS, Daniel has temporarily been assigned by the Board to serve during Extended Learning Time at Westlawn Middle School from August 26, 2014, through May 27, 2017; and
WHEREAS, in such position, Daniel shall work no more than 5 hours per week and shall be paid at a rate of $27.10 per hour, payable on a monthly basis upon receipt of properly authorized timesheets which are due on the same date as Payroll Service Reports; and
WHEREAS, the funds shall be made available from Federal Funds.
NOW, THEREFORE, the parties hereto agree as follows:
1. During the period of time Daniel serves during Extended Learning Time at Westlawn Middle School, Daniel shall be paid at a rate of $27.10 per hour.
2. The parties hereto understand and agree that Daniel's temporary assignment will end at the appropriate date as indicated in this agreement.
3. This agreement may be terminated upon five (5) days written notification by either party.

Doc. no. 47-9 (Agreement) (emphasis supplied).

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations of Mistreatment by Principal Alexander

         Plaintiff testified that Principal Alexander treated her “favorite teachers” more favorably than others, including plaintiff. Principal Alexander did not yell at her “favorites, ” humiliate them, or “write them up” for disciplinary infractions. Principal Alexander's “favorites” included both white and black teachers, and most were teachers who had been assigned to Westlawn through the “Teach for America” program. A group of teachers had complained the previous year to Superintendent Casey Wardynski, a white male, about Principal Alexander's behavior, and plaintiff began to suspect that Principal Alexander treated those teachers more favorably so she would not be the subject of any further complaints.[12]

         Plaintiff also alleges that Principal Alexander treated her unfavorably because of her race. She never heard Principal Alexander make any racially derogatory comments, however.[13] Instead, she contends that Principal Alexander's written reprimands and other reactions to plaintiff's job performance demonstrated a racial bias.

         1. Plaintiff's interactions with an educational vendor

         Kristy Hill, a consultant from an educational vendor known as “Pearson Education, ” met with Westlawn's seventh and eighth grade teachers on September 23, 2014. Hill asked the teachers for their opinions on the math curriculum provided by Pearson, and plaintiff responded that she thought the curriculum was not user-friendly and did not cover the material with sufficient depth. Plaintiff characterized her interaction with Hill as professional and courteous, and she testified that Hill thanked her and other teachers for their comments after the meeting.[14] Even so, Hill informed someone working at the Board's central office that a teacher had been confrontational during the meeting, and the Board employee in turn informed Principal Alexander. Principal Alexander identified plaintiff as the teacher about whom Hill had complained and sent plaintiff an email the same day as the meeting, stating:

I am concerned after some of the comments shared during the Pearson training today. Whether or not to use Pearson daily is not an option. Pearson is a district initiative which must be used and implemented!
We are here to support your instructional efforts but your success is going to also depend on your commitment to the classroom management plan and your effective implementation of the curriculum. Please let the Westlawn staff know if you need any assistance not the Pearson reps! Feel free to let me know if I can assistance you [sic] in any way.

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 4 (September 23, 2014 email). Plaintiff responded the following morning by stating:

I told the Pearson rep that I didn't use schoolnet every day because I can't count on the internet. I also told her that I use the snapshot tool from Promethean to copy the material from digits into a flipchart.[15] Everything taught in my class is from digits and occasionally I have to supplement the material. I told her I am not a fan of digits and I have used Pearson for the past 5 years and I do not feel this curriculum is student friendly.
If you would like to see any of my flipcharts please let me know and I will print them off for your review.

Id. Principal Alexander replied, at a date and time that cannot be discerned from the record:

The use of Pearson is NOT an option! It is the curriculum adopted by Huntsville City Schools. It does not benefit anyone to share your dislike or feelings with the Pearson Reps. She is tasked with training teachers not selling the program. Please save your candid concerns for your Westlawn family members so [we] can try to help you resolve problems internally.
Please let us know how we can help!

Id. (alteration supplied). Principal Alexander testified that she did not intend her emails to plaintiff to be disciplinary in nature, and she did not include copies in plaintiff's personnel file.[16]

         On September 26, 2014, three days after the meeting in which plaintiff made comments about Pearson's math curriculum to Kristy Hill, Ms. Hill sent an email to plaintiff, stating:

Thank you for allowing me to observe your class. I felt you did a very good job explaining the concepts to the students in a way they can relate to their everyday life. The students respond well to you. It was smart to make a flip chart with the digits content due to internet issues this week. You seem to have a good handle on the material and math principles.

Doc. no. 30-3, at ECF 56 (September 26, 2014 email).

         2. Teacher development meeting

         On the same date that plaintiff received the foregoing email from Kristy Hill (September 26, 2014), Principal Alexander conducted a teacher development meeting at Westlawn. She showed a video of the story of “Ferdinand the Bull”[17] to the entire faculty, and stated in a mocking manner that certain teachers were only there to draw paychecks and would be fired at the end of the year. She threw pieces of paper around the room that supposedly depicted the teachers who would lose their jobs at the end of the year. She also brought a dozen roses into the meeting room and “would ease over and smell those roses because supposedly . . . some of us were there only to smell the roses . . . .”[18] Alexander did not mention the names of any specific teachers, but she employed a “hostile and degrading tone” when speaking, and plaintiff felt humiliated and degraded.[19] Alexander testified that she gave a similar speech to her faculty each year because Westlawn was a “turnaround school, ” and she wanted to convey a sense of urgency to the staff.[20]

         Immediately after the conclusion of the teacher development meeting, plaintiff was called into a private meeting with Principal Alexander, Vice Principal Amy Van Allen (who is white), Luke Bergeson (a Teacher on Special Assignment, who is white), and the Turnaround Coach Melissa Smith, who is white.[21] Plaintiff was handed an “Immediate Action Form” bearing that day's date, and stating, “During observation held on 9/26/14, the following instructional component(s) were NOT evident and corrective actions must be taken immediately.”[22] No. boxes were checked under the categories labeled “Lesson Planning/Instruction, ” “Use of Strategies, ” or “Classroom Structures, ” but under the category of “Discipline” boxes were checked for “follow the 5-Step Discipline Plan” and “Consequences and Rewards for Adherence of Classroom Rules and Procedures.”[23] Under the heading “Effective Use of Time, ” boxes were checked for “Bell to Bell Instruction, ” “Move Around the Room to Ensure Students Are On Task, ” and “Monitor the Effective Use of Technology.”[24] In closing, the form stated:

The above checked item(s) have been noted and must be addressed immediately. The Administrative Staff and Instructional Partners are available to assist you. However, your unwillingness to correct these essential instructional components expeditiously will result in the placement of a letter documenting in your action [sic] in your HCS [i.e., Huntsville City Schools] Human Resource file.
Remember, Student Growth is our business!

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 2-3 (alteration supplied). The letter was jointly signed by Principal Alexander, Amelia (“Amy”) Van Allen, and Luke Bergeson as the “Westlawn Administrative Staff.”[25]

         During the meeting at which the Immediate Action Form was discussed, Principal Alexander told plaintiff that she “had people” in plaintiff's classroom, and it had been determined by those “people” that plaintiff did not know her curriculum.[26] When plaintiff asked for the identities of those persons who allegedly had been in her classroom as observers, Principal Alexander “violently threw her hand in [plaintiff's] face, ” causing plaintiff to believe that she would be slapped, and said to plaintiff: “‘We are not going to talk about other teachers.'”[27] Plaintiff grew concerned that she would be fired because Principal Alexander had just referenced firing teachers in the teacher development meeting that preceded the private meeting, and the form discussed in the subsequent private meeting referenced “immediate action.” Even so, she could not recall anything else that occurred during the private meeting with the “Westlawn Administrative Staff.”[28] Despite Principal Alexander's assertion that plaintiff's classroom behavior had been observed by unidentified “people, ” plaintiff testified that no administrators had observed, or even been present in her classroom, before September 26.[29]

         Although plaintiff was the first teacher to meet privately with the “Westlawn Administrative Staff, ” other teachers met individually with Principal Alexander, Vice Principal Amy Van Allen, Luke Bergeson, and Melissa Smith on September 26. Even so, plaintiff only heard the names of two other teachers being called to their meetings over the public address system, and both of those teachers were white.[30] Despite that assertion, Principal Alexander testified that she met with both white and black teachers on September 26 “to review classroom observation checklists and discuss items identified as needing immediate action.”[31] The meetings and observation checklists “were not disciplinary, but rather, intended to help teachers improve.”[32]

         3. Plaintiff leaves her classroom

         Of approximately twenty-four students in plaintiff's Westlawn classroom, ten to fourteen possessed “Warriors on Watch” (WOW) cards, meaning that they had documented disciplinary problems. The class had started the school year behind in their studies, because the substitute teacher who had been managing the classroom prior to the date on which plaintiff began teaching at Westlawn (August 25, 2014) had not progressed the curriculum. Plaintiff was having trouble maintaining order in the classroom and catching up the curriculum, and she had asked both Vice Principal Amy Van Allen and Teacher on Special Assignment Luke Bergeson for help, but she did not receive any assistance. Plaintiff became so frustrated with student misbehavior and lack of order in her classroom that, on October 16, 2014, she began to cry, left her classroom, walked to Mr. Bergeson's office, and said: “You're going to have to get me a sub because I've got to go home because I can't handle this today.”[33] Bergeson asked Crystal Alexander, the Curriculum Coach, to cover plaintiff's classroom.[34] Plaintiff sat in her car crying for an undisclosed period of time, then called Vice Principal Amy Van Allen, who asked her to come back inside the school. Plaintiff complied, then talked to Van Allen, who listened to plaintiff's concerns, acknowledged there were too many students in the class with disciplinary problems, and promised to help plaintiff.[35]

         Principal Alexander sent plaintiff a letter on October 22, 2014, stating:

This letter is to express my concern regarding you leaving your class unattended on Thursday, October 16, 2014. According to the office staff, you entered the front office and abruptly stated, “You could do whatever we needed to with the class, but I am leaving.” You then proceeded out the front door abandoning your second period class.
You decided to return to the building and a conference was held with our Director of Instruction, the TOSA [i.e., Teacher on Special Assignment] and myself. I expressed my expectations regarding full implementation of the school-wide discipline plan and your solicitation of help from the administrative team as needed when dealing [with] disciplinary measures. The leadership team has made efforts to support the implementation of your classroom management plan through coaching, observations, reflective feedback, professional development and team level support.
Abandoning your classroom during the instructional day is unacceptable. As teachers, we must make every attempt to develop positive relationships with students and how to respond to disruptive behaviors in a reasonable, proactive manner. Classroom teachers must possess the ability to communicate effectively, in order to have a positive influence on the overall school climate.
You are expected to understand the importance of your role in changing Westlawn's culture to that of an exemplary school.
This letter will be placed in your Human Resource file.

Doc. no. 30-2 (October 22, 2014 Letter) (alterations supplied).

         Plaintiff acknowledged that no adult was physically present in her classroom from the time she walked out until the time that Luke Bergeson sent Crystal Alexander to cover the classroom, but she did leave the classroom door open, and the teacher in the classroom across the hall was watching out for the classroom.[36]

         4. October 21, 2014 walkthrough

         Luke Bergeson and Crystal Alexander conducted a walkthrough observation of plaintiff's classroom on October 21, 2014. They reported their observations to Principal Alexander, who issued the following letter to plaintiff on October 22, 2014:

         During the weekly walkthrough held on Tuesday, October 21, 2014, the following classroom structures were noted:

1. Focus Wall did not match activity or lesson plan
2. Student Trackers were not current or complete (No Pre-Assessment Data for October)
3. Student Work was current and up-to-date
4. No evidence of consistency with Classroom Behavior Plan 5. Current Lesson Plans were not available in notebook
6. Daily Lesson Plans duplicated over several days
7. Student Work displayed is below grade (Example: Color by number division worksheet)
Due to being a “Turnaround School, ” we must place all of our effort on the academic needs of our students. Classroom instructional time must be targeted and focused on assisting students as they work to obtain necessary academic skills. The leadership team has made efforts to support the implementation of your classroom management plan through coaching, observations, reflective feedback, professional development and team level support.
It is your professional responsibility to be prepared for instruction daily. Planning for effective classroom instruction creates a structured learning environment for all students. Lesson plans, discipline plans and a tardy log are an integral [part] of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) and will be used as documentation for instructional accountability. Teachers will be held liable for the mastery of presented objectives and the day-to-day instruction in their classroom.
You are expected to implement all the aspects of the classroom structures, which have been established, as school norms and expectations for Westlawn Teachers. This letter will be placed in your Westlawn Middle School personnel file. If this behavior continues, documentation will be placed in your Human Resource file.

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 5 (October 22, 2014 Letter) (alteration supplied, all emphasis in original).

         Plaintiff disputes that most of the problems noted in the foregoing letter were accurate. She explained that all classroom structure materials, including student trackers, Focus Wall items, and student work display items, had been removed from her classroom because the room had been used earlier that morning to administer testing required by the Board.[37] She also explained that math teachers compiled student trackers based on unit completion, not on a monthly basis, so it was wrong to criticize her for not having pre-assessment data for the month of October.[38] She stated that, if she had not been following the classroom behavior plan, it was because she had not been trained on the plan.[39] She disputed that current lesson plans were unavailable, and asserted that the plan for the day of the observation simply was not on top of the notebook, and she explained that math lesson plans often were duplicated because the material had to be covered multiple times in order to ensure students' understanding.[40] Finally, she explained that the student work displayed was below grade level because the students were struggling with a foundational concept, and she could not move on to more challenging topics until that concept had been mastered.[41]

         5. Crystal Alexander's observation of plaintiff's classroom

         One week later, on October 28, 2014, Crystal Alexander, the Curriculum Coach, entered plaintiff's classroom during instructional time in order to collect data for the turn-around program. Plaintiff continued teaching, but Ms. Alexander called her aside to ask some questions. Plaintiff attempted to respond in a low tone because she did not want the students to hear what was being said, and Ms. Alexander asked plaintiff to step outside to continue the conversation. Alexander accused plaintiff of being defensive, and plaintiff responded, “I got to teach my class, ” because she believed teaching was the most important thing.[42] Alexander asked plaintiff if she wanted to go see Mr. Bergeson, the Teacher on Special Assignment, but plaintiff declined, responding that she had a class to teach.[43]

         Plaintiff denies being aggressive or confrontational during her exchange with Crystal Alexander, [44] but Ms. Alexander reported to Principal Alexander that plaintiff was both aggressive and unprofessional, and that she yelled and cursed in the presence of students.[45] As a result, Principal Alexander wrote the following letter to plaintiff on October 29, 2014:

This letter is to express my concern regarding your unprofessional tone and resistance to the coaching support. On Tuesday, October 28, 2014, the Assistant Principal, TOSA and Instructional Partner were asked to conduct a walkthrough in each class in preparation for a visit by the Mayor and District officials. A checklist was created to inform teachers of their need to address the classroom structures and norms such as focus walls, lesson plans current and available, and word wall.
The Instructional Partner [Crystal Alexander, who also is sometimes referred to as “Curriculum Coach”] arrived in your classroom to complete the checklist and you became both aggressive and confrontational. Due to your mannerism, voice tone, and the presence of students at the time in the classroom, she asked you to step outside. While outside the classroom, you continued to express your concerns about the Instructional Partner's inaccurate recollection and report of classroom structures during the walkthrough last week. You implied that you were written up because of these inaccuracies and that the (leadership team) was not good at recognizing and admitted their mistakes. Because the Instructional Coach was bewildered and insulted by your tone and aggressiveness, she reported this incident to the Assistant Principal and a meeting was held to address [the] incident. During this meeting, the role and support of the Instructional Partner was reiterated.
Your tone toward the Instructional Partner was unprofessional and provides evidence of your ongoing resistance to the coaching process. Your unwelcoming response to the classroom visit by members of the Leadership Team is unacceptable. Your classroom should be welcoming, open and a haven for improvement of best teaching practices. Moreover, the time to express concerns regarding walkthroughs was during the Walkthrough/Follow-up/Feedback meeting, not in the middle of your classroom.
The Leadership Team has made numerous attempts to express the importance of your participation in the process to become a Professional Learning Community. Westlawn Middle will conduct weekly walkthroughs, schedule daily job-embedded professional development, model for teachers, facilitate team collaboration, participate in the coaching process and conduct data analysis. We expect full participation of all teachers as we implement sound instructional practices and the Instructional Partner is expect[ed] to support the classroom teacher in those efforts.
This letter will be placed in your Human Reource file.

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 10-11 (October 29, 2014 Letter) (alterations supplied).

         6. Student reassignments

         On that same date, October 29, 2014, Assistant Principal Amy Van Allen and Teacher on Special Assignment Luke Bergeson expressed concern to Principal Alexander that plaintiff was not providing some students a fair opportunity to participate in the learning process. Principal Alexander also received requests from parents and students that certain students be removed from plaintiff's classroom.

         Principal Alexander agreed that it was in those students' best interest to be removed from plaintiff's classroom, [46] and she sent the following letter on that same Dated:

The letter is to express my concern regarding schedule changes to remove students from your classes. The Assistant Principal and TOSA expressed concerns about your willingness to give these students a fair opportunity to participate in the learning experiences in your classroom. After much deliberation, I decided a schedule change was in the best interest of the students. On Monday, October 27, 2014, the second student was scheduled out of your classroom. I continue to have students making verbal requests to be removed from your classroom.
However, we cannot continue to move students out of your classroom. You are expected to make every effort to develop relationships with students, consistently implement the classroom management plan, teach students where they are academically, provide a consistent, nurturing classroom environment and accept the suggestions for strategies and classroom environment offered by the Leadership Team.
The letter will be placed in your Westlawn Middle School personnel file. If this behavior continues, a letter will be placed in your Human Resource file at Central Office.

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 9 (October 29, 2014 Letter).

         Plaintiff was aware of only two students being removed from her classroom. The first was a female of unspecified race who consistently was reprimanded for failing to finish eating her breakfast on time. The girl brought a letter to school from her father stating that he was giving his permission, upon request from Principal Alexander, to move the girl to a different classroom. The second was a black male who caused trouble for all of his teachers. He bumped into plaintiff one time in the hallway, and he also used physical force to enter plaintiff's classroom after she had forbidden him to enter during non-instructional time. Plaintiff requested that the male student be removed from her classroom because she was afraid of him.[47]

         7. Plaintiff's comments about a disabled student

         While plaintiff was chaperoning a bowling trip for a group of students, she noticed that one female student smelled like urine. Because that student was in her class and she had smelled the urine odor before, plaintiff mentioned it to the school nurse, who also was chaperoning the trip. The nurse helped the student change clothes, and then asked plaintiff to suggest to the student that she visit the nurse at school if plaintiff smelled urine again. On a later date, December 1, 2014, plaintiff witnessed the same student squatting in the hallway to use the bathroom. She mentioned the student's situation to other teachers during a data meeting that afternoon, and suggested that the other teachers also send the student to the nurse if they ever smelled or observed urine.[48] Plaintiff testified that she brought up the topic out of concern for the student.[49]

         Principal Alexander wrote a letter to plaintiff regarding this situation on December 1, 2014, stating:

This letter is to express my concern regarding your initiation of an inappropriate discussion regarding an incident with a student. This discussion took place during our regularly scheduled Professional Learning Communities (PLC) meeting held on Monday, December 1st. During this meeting, you abruptly asked an entire team of teachers if any of them witnessed this particular student pulling her pants down in the hallway and using the bathroom. These comments were inappropriate, unnecessary and alerting to some of the teachers in attendance.
It is my understanding that this child was experiencing some medical complications as she was leaving the clinic and you were leaving the bathroom in the same area. The Security Officer and counselor were making efforts to assist getting the child back to the school nurse. Your recollection of the incident as shared with the teachers was insensitive and purposeless.
The discussion also posed no intent for help or solution for the child. It was a non-solution oriented discussion. If you had a true concern for the student's actions, you should have immediately reported the incident to the school administration, school nurse or school counselor. Many of the teachers attending the PLC's did not have a “need to know” this information and do not know or teach this students [sic].
I expect teachers to be sensitive to the needs of individual students and seek help from other professionals in the building if a student seems to be in need of immediate assistance.
This letter will be placed in your Human Resource file.

Doc. no. 30-2 (December 1, 2014 Letter).

         When plaintiff met with Principal Alexander to discuss this write-up, she was not allowed to explain the situation.[50]

         C. Other Individuals' Assessments of Plaintiff's Performance

         Dr. Shirley Kilgore, an independent behavioral consultant employed by the Education Company, had been hired by the Board to assess and assist teachers. She observed the classrooms of several Westlawn teachers, including that of plaintiff, on November 19, 2014. Afterwards, she discussed her findings with Westlawn's administrators. The minutes of that meeting reflect that Dr. Kilgore made the following observations about plaintiff:

• Huge disconnect with her [sic: between plaintiff] and her students
• You can tell she does not like her students
• She is hostile and sarcastic
• She met me at the door stating there were 24 on task and 14 on WOW cards
• Many [students] off task
• She chooses who to target
• No positive reinforcement
• She doesn't intervene / she reacts and attacks
• Her demeanor is not positive
• Anything we do for Daniel [plaintiff] is not going to help.

Doc. no. 30-14, at ECF 12-13 (Minutes of November 19, 2014 Meeting) (alterations supplied). Plaintiff denies that Dr. Kilgore made any of those negative statements. Plaintiff sated that she met with Dr. Kilgore after the classroom observation, and that Dr. Kilgore told her that she really knew how to keep her class under control.[51]

         Plaintiff received mixed performance reviews from the Westlawn administrators. Principal Alexander never personally observed plaintiff's classroom, but she gave plaintiff an excellent score on a November 18, 2014 Student Trackers review.[52] On the other hand, Luke Bergeson, Crystal Alexander, and Amy Van Allen stated in their affidavits that students often complained about plaintiff, and that plaintiff exhibited poor classroom management.[53] Crystal Alexander and Amy Van Allen also noted that plaintiff's classroom was chaotic and lacked structure, and that plaintiff yelled at and dismissed students from the class, as opposed to the preferable practice of building relationships with them.[54] Despite having made such statements in her affidavit, however, Amy Van Allen stated on a December 2, 2014 “Educate Alabama” evaluation form that “several positive classroom management strategies were noted in [plaintiff's] classroom, ” despite the fact that the students in her class were “difficult.”[55]

         D. Plaintiff's Change in Assignment at Westlawn

         Principal Alexander decided to change plaintiff's job assignment for her second semester at Westlawn, due to concerns over plaintiff's job performance and parent and student complaints. She informed plaintiff on December 18, 2014, that she would be reassigned during the second semester as a math intervention teacher, rather than a classroom teacher. The change in assignment did not affect plaintiff's salary or job location.[56]

         Later that day, one of the students in plaintiff's class overheard Principal Alexander and the black school counselor laughing and bragging about plaintiff's reassignment. That student shared what she had overheard with other students in the class, and the students and plaintiff all became upset. One student mentioned that they had been learning about defending their rights by studying in history class the civil rights marches that had occurred in Selma, Alabama. Without any encouragement from plaintiff, the students began making handwritten signs to protest plaintiff's reassignment.[57] The signs included messages like “Students will fight!”; “Fight for Ms. Daniels our math teacher!”; “Principals shouldn't harass teachers!”; “Protest 4 Mrs. Daniels”; and “Keep Mrs. Daniel. This will hurt you and the school.”[58] The students did not miss any instructional time to make the signs. Moreover, the signs remained in plaintiff's classroom.[59]

         One of plaintiff's students provided a written statement on December 19, 2014, stating:

I came in and Mrs. daniels [sic] was crying & we asked her what's wrong and she asked us if we liked her as a math teacher and if we wanted to keep her. Our response was “yes, ” and she said we needed to have parents call and we needed to do something because Mrs. Alexander was harassing her and has been since she's gotten there. And today she said we needed to get a piece of paper and have everyone who wanted me “her” [sic] to stay, and she wrote “Keep Mrs. Daniels” on the paper and told me to tell my friends to sign it.

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 22 (December 19, 2014 Witness/Participant Statement).

         Another student provided a written statement on an unspecified date, stating:

Ok i had just walked in the classroom then i saw Ms. Daniels crying and i was like whats wrong then everybody was like just leave her alone then they was like they finna [sic: “fixing to”] fire her then she said no they aren't firing me they taking all my math classes and we was like why then she was giving lots of things Alexander she said had done then she pulled out a pack of stuff Alexander had put on her. [sic]

Doc. no. 30-2, at ECF 23 (Witness/Participant Statement).[60]

         Plaintiff denies encouraging the students to protest, or asserting that Principal Alexander had mistreated her, or asking them to call the school on her behalf.[61]

         Principal Alexander issued plaintiff a letter on December 19, 2014, stating:

During our conference held on December 18, 2014, I shared numerous concerns regarding low student engagement, parent complaints, and classroom management. I also stated that an instructional change would occur at the beginning of the second semester. You would be reassigned additional Math intervention classes. My concerns regarding your resistance to professional growth and development was [sic] also expressed during this meeting.
On December 19, 2014, the collaborative teacher assigned to your classroom informed me that you were promoting a student protest and your students were signing a petition in order to allow you to keep your job. The incident caused students to become involved in an unproductive, meaningless activity that served as a distractor from the necessary daily math instruction. These displays also left me feeling fearful and threatened. In my opinion, the student messages were personal and intimidating.

         The displays of approximately twenty-six signs were placed throughout the classroom with the following phrases:

1. Students Will Fight
2. Principals Should Not Harass Teachers
3. Keep Mrs. Daniel
4. Keep Ms. Daniel - This Will Hurt You and the School 5. Protest for Ms. Daniel
These displays left the collaborative teachers feeling unsettled and concerned about student safety. It is my understanding that conversations were intentionally held to influence student perceptions and opinions regarding you being fired and the anticipation that you would no longer serve as their teacher. Both of these assumptions are untrue.
Westlawn Middle School is a Turnaround School with high expectations for improvement; therefore, it is extremely important to commit all of our time and efforts toward academic excellence. During instructional time, students should be encouraged to focus on learning, not dealing with the degree to which the school is providing professional growth and development for their teachers. Any concerns regarding the administrative decision to make changes in scheduling should have been addressed during a meeting among adults.
Multiple efforts to provide coaching, mentoring and assistance have proving to be unproductive due to your resistance to change. In the future, I expect you to be receptive to professional feedback, make efforts to meet the individualized needs of students, maintain a student-focused ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.