Fired teacher is collateral damage
Principal re-admits suspended student; fight erupts
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — A fight inside a classroom May 1 at the Educational Achievement Authority’s Pershing High School led to the termination of a teacher and is the latest problem in Gov. Rick Snyder’s failing experimental district.
Tiffani Eaton, 31, was fired, “effective immediately” when a mobile phone video surfaced showing the English teacher swatting a student with a broom to break up the fight.
“After performing a thorough investigation, the students who were involved in the altercation in question were disciplined and the teacher was dismissed,” read a statement released by the EAA.
The statement goes on to state the EAA “seeks to promote a safe environment for its students and staff and will not tolerate any inappropriate conduct.”
The actions and history of Pershing Principal Dr. Gregory King, however, do not reflect the EAA’s statement.
According to a source, who wishes to remain unnamed, the student who initiated the fight, Kiren Lowery, was on suspension and was not supposed to be in the building.
Dr. King re-admitted Lowery, the source said, without the mandatory hearing to readmit.
“He’s been kicked out numerous times,” the source said, “and was supposed to go to a hearing to be readmitted. On paper he should not have been allowed in school.”
This is not the first time King’s mishandling of a school incident has come into question.
As principal of Lowell Elementary School, in Seattle, Wash., King was found to have mishandled a report of alleged sexual misconduct.
According to a Seattle Times report, King and his vice principal failed to properly investigate a January 2011 report that an instructional assistant at the school may have kissed the feet of a special-education student, the report found.
King was brought to Detroit in 2012 by then EAA Deputy Chancellor Maria Goodloe-Johnson, former superintendent of Seattle Schools. According to a Seattle Times report, King did not inform the district he was leaving.
Goodloe-Johnson, who died of cancer in Dec. 2012, was fired from the Seattle district in March 2011 following a financial scandal related to the district’s small business contracts.
Although she was not implicated, the district’s attorney found she was aware of what was happening and should have spoken up.
The EAA did not respond by press time regarding King’s decision on Lowery’s suspension hearing or how he was qualified to be a principal in the EAA after his experience in Seattle.
“The principal is trying to keep his job,” said the source to explain Eaton’s termination.
News reports stated Eaton’s walkie-talkie was not working and she could not call for help when the students were fighting. According to school policy, she could not leave the classroom.
But, the source says, “many of the radios haven’t worked for months.”
“There are under 10 working radios and over (90) teachers,” the source said, adding (some of) the security officers’ radios are also inoperative.
Pershing has approximately 1,900 students.
There are three to four fights a day, the source said, many gang-related.
“Kids can’t possibly get a quality education.”
A “known troublemaker” with gang affiliation is how the source described student Kiren Lowery who allegedly went in the classroom demanding the student with whom he began fighting give up his belt.
Lowery was interviewed on Fox2 News.
“I asked him was he looking for me, he got up and swung on me and we got to fighting,” is how Lowery, described the incident.
His mother who accompanied Lowery for the news report, was shown pointing out barely visible “scratches” she alleged came from the broom on her child’s upper torso.
Showing no remorse for his actions, Lowery told the Fox2 reporter, “No. I don’t feel like it’s my fault. She was my favorite teacher, it could have went the other way around. She could have called security. I think that’s (what) she deserves.”
Eaton is scheduled to go before the EAA board in June. Dr. King has recommended her termination. She could possibly be charged with child abuse, in violation of the state’s corporal punishment provision.
Many have come to Eaton’s defense.
“Under the same code, she is expected to do what is necessary to diffuse a situation,” Keith Johnson, president of Detroit Federation of Teachers for Detroit Public School Teachers, said in a news report.
But Eaton has no union representation. None of the EAA teachers do. Many are Teach for America teachers. These are recent college graduates who, in exchange for relief on their student debt receive five weeks of training before entering the classroom. Eaton, who started working at Pershing in January of this year, is not TFA, and is a certified teacher, according to EAA spokesperson Crystal Wilson.
She did what she could, many say.
The security that was supposed to be on post outside Eaton’s classroom had been called away by an administrator to go pick up another student, the source said.
One Pershing student, in his senior year, told this reporter that there are a lot of fights at Pershing. The new system (EAA) has only made things worse, he said.
“They’re trying to put so many rules in place too fast. They’re not including the students (their views or perspectives) on what should happen, and the students are rebelling,” he said.
According to published reports, in the first five months of 2013, the EAA’s first school year, authorities documented more than 5,000 discipline-related infractions. Incidents ranged from fights to truancy to gambling to insubordination and disorderly conduct.