EXCLUSIVE: Sandra Meeks Speller says Toledo School Board was wrong to fire her

July 31, 2013 in Local News, News, Top Stories

BY DARRYL Q. TUCKER
Journal Managing Editor

Sandra Meeks Speller, a former assistant principal at Spring Elementary School, whom Toledo School Board members fired last month, is speaking out against the allegations she says are false.
Meeks Speller said she wants to set the record straight. She said she decided to use The Toledo Journal to get out the correct information.
She and her attorney, Dennis D. Grant, will file an appeal to the firing.
Last month, board members voted 4-1 to fire Meeks Speller, effective immediately.
Board members who supported the termination were: Brenda Hill, president; Dr. Cecelia Adams, vice president; and Lisa Sobecki and Bob Vasquez. Member Larry Sykes voted not to fire Meeks Speller.
Ms. Meeks Speller, who was with Toledo Public Schools for 16 years, was first a math teacher at Scott High School and then an assistant principal at DeVeaux Middle School, and more recently at Spring Elementary.
Meeks Speller said she had a hunch that Board members were going to meet last month. She said no one contacted her to say a vote would take place.
She said Hill stated at the May board meeting they would contact her, and it didn’t happen.
After the vote, Meeks Speller said she was in shock.
“I laughed,” she said. “I was sitting there and said to myself, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ “It’s interesting that from 1996 to 2009, I had stellar evaluations.”
Ms. Hill did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment. Board officials said Hill is the only person authorized to comment.
Difference of opinion
While at Scott from 1998 to 2007, Meeks Speller received high marks on her evaluations.
She wanted a change and received a transfer to DeVeaux Junior High School.
Chad Henderly became principal at DeVeaux in 2009, and Meeks Speller said she began getting poor remarks on her evaluations because her style and opinions on reaching students.
In July 2011, she transferred to Spring Elementary, where she worked under Principal Victoria Dipman, who admitted she began keeping a log on Meeks Speller.
By October of that year, the relationship between Meeks Speller and Dipman had deteriorated. Dipman admitted she had kept a log of Meeks Spellers activities.
The allegations
District administrators accused Meeks-Speller of using inappropriate physical discipline with students, making threats and using racially tinged language.
During three June 2012 hearings, the Board alleged that Meeks Speller exercised poor job performance, repeated and consistently failed to perform jobs duties, unprofessional behavior, insubordination and created to an offensive work environment at Spring Elementary.
The district said Meeks Speller did not treat students with respect, improperly criticized staff for failing to report a case of suspected child abuse to Lucas County Children Services, and having improper contact with a student.
A parent complained that Meeks-Speller hit, scratched, pinched and smacked their son, the Board said.
“I was injured trying to prevent him from harming himself after he threatened to jump over the balcony,” Meeks Speller said.
The district placed her on paid administrative suspension Aug. 8, 2012.
Two Spring teachers wrote letters on Meeks Speller’s behalf saying she was an excellent educator who was an asset and always available to teachers.
They said she was approachable and had a good rapport with the staff and getting positive black role models to visit Spring.
Police report
Meeks Speller said Dipman came in at the end of the school day, told her to leave because a parent was coming in to file a complaint against her, and it would be best if she wasn’t there.
“I asked who was the parent and why did I need to leave?” she said.
Dipman said for her to just leave and she would take care of it.
Meeks Speller said nothing else was discussed about the incident and Dipman didn’t ask her if anything had happened that day and for fear of being accused of insubordination.
“I left and thought about going back to the school to meet with the parents,” Meeks Speller said. “That’s something I regret because six months later, in the June 2012 hearing is when I found out Dipman filed a police report.
“About the allegations of inappropriate force on a child, if I really placed children in danger or abused them and others were witnesses to these actions, why didn’t anyone notify Lucas County Children Services or the police?
“And, if a child came home saying they were hurt by an administrator, why didn’t that parent demand to meet with me or more importantly, why didn’t that parent go to the board?
“Also, in regards to the alleged racial slurs, how does one make racial slurs to someone whose the same race? If I did what they say I did, I would be in jail.”
The mediator’s report
Meeks Speller, who is close to earning a doctorate degree in education with specialties in curriculum and instruction, and the Board agreed to a mediator.
Referee Anthony L. Gretick of Bryan, Ohio, heard the case earlier this year. In his 15-page report, he rejected most of the district’s charges against Meeks Speller for lack of evidence, unconvincing testimony, biased witnesses and that the allegations did not warrant termination.
Gretick is a retired Williams County Common Pleas Court judge.
“It is the finding and conclusion of the Referee that the Administration has failed to carry the burden that the conduct by Meeks Speller of which she has been accused which has been proven by competent evidence is good and just cause for the termination,” Gretick wrote in his report he released May 6.
“Sandra Meeks Speller has brought superior academic credentials to her 16-year career with Toledo Public Schools,” Gretick continued.
In her evaluations while in the District, she received laudatory marks, including her first one at DeVeaux, he wrote.
Henderly “poisoned the well” against Meeks Speller at Spring by communicating with Dipman before the school year, though Henderly denied that, Gretick wrote.
“The phrase ‘toxic work environment’ springs to mind when describing Ms. Speller’s later tenure at DeVeaux and her tenure at Spring,” Gretick said.
In addition to rejecting most of the board’s claims, Gretick suggested some of the nearly all-white administrators at DeVeaux and Spring did not accept Meeks Speller.
“At DeVeaux, she was the only female administrator and the only African American administrator,” he wrote. “As such, to a great extent she served as an important link to the majority African American community which is served by DeVeaux, which her early evaluations indicated. Ms. Speller was probably not accepted into the all-white male administrative hierarchy at DeVeaux which she described as an ‘old boys’ network.”
The majority of students who attend DeVeaux are white, while Spring and Scott are  predominantly black.
Meeks Speller also was perplexed that her union, the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel continued to take union dues and refused to represent her in this matter.
She said Don Yates, union president, stated, “I don’t think we can win, so that’s why we aren’t going to fight for your job.”
Love for the students
Meeks Speller said she misses her job and the children.
“I have a passion and love for the kids,” she said. “When all this started, I had about 15 to 20 families who said they would pull students from TPS and put them in a charter school.
“I deal with the kids like they are my own children or nieces and nephews. If I have to, I would put myself in harm’s way to protect them. I will.”
“I did put myself in harm’s way when I took a 9 mm pistol from a student at Spring.”
The district did not take any action against the student, she said.
Meeks Speller is married to Gunnery Sgt. Ray Speller Jr., who’s an 18-year Marine Corp. veteran.