The Toledo Board of Education deferred a decision Tuesday on the fate of a suspended assistant principal, referring her case to a state-appointed referee to make a recommendation.
Sandra Meeks-Speller has been accused of using inappropriate physical discipline with students, making threats, and using racially tinged language. She was placed on paid administrative suspension Aug. 8 pending possible termination.
District administrators have recommended she be fired, but the board makes final decisions on contract terminations. In cases of possible terminations, school employees can demand first to have a hearing before either the board or a state referee; Ms. Meeks-Speller requested that hearing, said Lisa Sobecki, board president. The referee's recommendation isn't binding.
The board met in closed session, apparently to discuss her case, before announcing the move. Family, friends, and colleagues of Ms. Meeks-Speller crowded the board room in the Thurgood Marshall Building in a show of support. Janice Hughes, Ms. Meeks-Speller's sister, called the allegations against her sister "totally false," and said those who testified against Ms. Meeks-Speller during a district investigative hearing must have misinterpreted what they saw. Any physical contact with students, she said, probably was horseplay.
"She wouldn't do anything to hurt a child," Ms. Hughes said.
Ms. Meeks-Speller transferred to Spring Elementary last year after a principal at what was then DeVeaux Middle School 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 Toledo Public School account of investigative hearings; those hearings included testimony of allegations against her as well as witnesses who spoke favorably of Ms. Meeks-Speller's character.
Among the accusations of physical contact with students are reports by teachers and staff that Ms. Meeks-Speller put students in headlocks, that she pushed a student against a wall, that she grabbed a student by the back of the neck and bent him over, and that she put her foot on a special-needs student, and a report by a parent that Ms. Meeks-Speller grabbed a child and twisted his arm behind his back, according to TPS documents in her file.
In one 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 said 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. Hughes rejected any claim that her sister made discipline decisions based on race, and said she hoped her sister would be vindicated by the referee's report.
She asked why someone with her sister's career, professional accolades, and standing in the community would act as some witnesses described.
"Why would someone want to jeopardize all that?" Ms. Hughes said. "It doesn't make sense."
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.