Anatomy of a Grievance: A Follow-Up

As promised, a followup: I wrote in these pages several weeks ago about what happened when the assistant principal at the Dallas middle school where I teach asked me to pass students who had failed.
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As promised, a followup:

I wrote in these pages several weeks ago about what happened when the assistant principal at the Dallas middle school where I teach asked me to change report card grades, to pass students who had failed. I refused, and was immediately stripped of students, department, team, planning periods, communication and curriculum materials. My students' schedules were turned upside down. They were sent to overcrowded existing classes. They protested. I filed a grievance with the school district and presented my case at a hearing in front of school district personnel, who decided that the administration had done nothing unlawful, even though it had.

Section 28.0214 of the Texas Education Code is called "Finality of Grade." It states that a "course grade issued by a classroom teacher is final and may not be changed unless the grade is arbitrary, erroneous, or not consistent with the school district grading policy... as determined by the board of trustees of the school district." Translation: if principals want to alter grades, they have to convince the school board they have good reason. My administrators didn't follow procedure, and they didn't have good reason.

Additionally, Section 28.021 of the code states that "a student may be promoted only on the basis of academic achievement or demonstrated proficiency of the subject matter of the course." Well, if you give phony grades, you have phony proficiency, and if you then promote the kids based on the phony proficiency, you have violated this law, too, not to mention provided a chopped salad of disservice to those kids.

I continue to pursue the issue. Level II, it is called. I lay out the facts, again, in front of a different employee relations person and the same attorney representing the administration. This time, the assistant principal and principal are present. I describe more fully how I was told, when I was told, what I was told. I describe where on my desk the assistant principal placed the grade-changing forms -- the one-point-three inch stack of grade-changing forms -- and on which floor tile she stood when she slapped them down.

"I never asked her to change grades," the assistant principal says, anyway. The principal says nothing. The attorney says nothing.

Wow. That was foolish, I say to myself. Lying, and lying again. Yikes.

Before the denial, the administration's attorney had presented a pretty wacky case. First, he offered up hand-written notes from two students who were asked to write disparaging remarks about me, their teacher. Truly. Their names were blocked out, except for the first and last initials. I quickly figured out who one of them was.

"Ms. Kripke's class is always noisy. If someone tells another person to be quiet everybody starts yelling... and walks around the room." Interestingly, I had spoken several times with this child's mom about her incessant yelling and walking around the room. How does an educator ask a child to malign an instructor? Doesn't that just break all the rules? Of everything?

Then, after he said that he didn't want to "slander" me, when he had, the attorney, in order to defend the administration's decision to have me teach seven small groups per day instead of three standard-size classes, maintained that my expertise, command of the subject and educational background was just perfect for the job. I was brilliant, yes I was. Phenomenal! Just fabulous, despite all the yelling and walking around the room. He brought my resume, even, and copies of student work. Look! Look how well they are all doing because Ms. Kripke is so remarkable. Right. I couldn't help but recall the mediocre evaluation I had received just a few weeks earlier, or the "Teacher in Need of Assistance Plan" I was put on, you know, for improvement. A district employee told me that when they do that, administrators can fire you more easily. But at the hearing, gosh, I was Teacher in Need of Sainthood.

Dizzy, I thanked the attorney and my administrators for their compliments, and reminded the hearing officer that the purpose of my visit that day was to report an illegality as a service to the school's students, in the same way that I would report a criminal whom I saw stealing money from the cashier at the 7-Eleven across the street. And I left.

"That was lunacy," I say out loud in the car. Craziness.

Two weeks later, the decision arrives in the mail. The matter has been referred to the senior executive director of the middle school's learning community, or the person to whom the administrators report. All right, then. Good for the hearing officer. Good for the kids. Onward.

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