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Published: 8/18/2012

Board to weigh firing assistant principal

TPS official accused of threats, physical discipline

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Board of Education on Tuesday could fire an assistant principal accused of using inappropriate physical discipline with students, making threats, and using racially tinged language.

Sandra Meeks-Speller -- most recently a Spring Elementary assistant principal -- was placed on paid administrative suspension Aug. 8 pending possible termination. She has been employed at Scott High School and what was then DeVeaux Middle School.

District administrators have recommended she be terminated. The firing is subject to board approval.

Ms. Meeks-Speller said because she is still a TPS employee, she had to defer comment to Toledo Public Schools' communications director.

Her disciplinary file includes a summary of three June investigative hearings held by TPS. She has been accused by the district of insubordination, unprofessional behavior, and contributing to an offensive work environment, among other allegations.

Ms. Meeks-Speller transferred to Spring last year after DeVeaux Principal Chad Henderly raised repeated concerns, including insults and sarcasm she was accused of using toward students. Similar concerns continued at Spring with Principal Victoria Dipman, according to a TPS document about the hearings.

Comments attributed to Ms. Meeks-Speller the past three years include, "Is it that time of the month?" said to a boy student while mocking his socks, and raising a fist and telling a student, "You don't want me to hit you."

There are several accusations of physical contact that troubled teachers or staff, the report states. More than one teacher claimed seeing Ms. Meeks-Speller put students in headlocks. Staff reported seeing her with a student pushed against a wall, and at another time grabbing a student by the back of the neck and bending him over. Parents reported this spring that Ms. Meeks-Speller grabbed their child and twisted his arm behind his back. In another incident, she was accused of putting her foot on a special-needs student who was acting out, according to TPS documents in her file.

In one incident, a teacher claimed Ms. Meeks-Speller asked the teacher in front of a parent whether the teacher had called Lucas County Children Services about possible abuse at home, TPS documents state. The student claimed her mother hit her with a fishing rod, and when the mother asked what to do, Ms. Meeks-Speller told her, "The next time, instead of using a fishing pole, use a baseball bat."

She allegedly told several African-American teachers at Spring there were "just too many of us in the building," the report said. In another instance, a teacher said Ms. Meeks-Speller justified putting a student in a headlock by saying both she and the student were black. The teacher claimed Ms. Meeks-Speller said she would "not discipline or not be as harsh as she should have been if it was a black student referred by a white teacher," according to TPS documents.

Ms. Meeks-Speller attributed the measures to not being trained to work with elementary students, according to her testimony at the hearings included in TPS documents.

Several at TPS testified favorably about her, and letters of support were in her file. A DeVeaux special ed teacher said Ms. Meeks-Speller acted with professionalism whenever he saw her. The TPS documents also state she organized and planned several events and programs without issue.

The board of education is to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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