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Published: Saturday, 7/20/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

City school firing disputed

Claims of bias likely to lead to legal battle

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Facebook photo of Sandra Meeks Speller. Facebook photo of Sandra Meeks Speller.
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The president of the local chapter of the NAACP claims the Toledo Board of Education president reneged on a 2012 promise to follow a state-appointed referee’s decision about the fate of an assistant principal.

The Rev. Kevin Bedford said he and the Rev. Robert A. Culp were promised by then-board President Lisa Sobecki that the board would adhere to whatever decision a referee recommended for Sandra Meeks-Speller, who at the time was suspended.

Toledo Public Schools administrators accused her of using inappropriate physical discipline with students, making threats, and using racially tinged language. The referee recommended Ms. Meeks-Speller not be fired, but the board chose last month to terminate her.

“[Ms. Sobecki] said that the board would follow the referee’s decision,” Pastor Bedford said. “We were shocked when that wasn’t the case. ... She certainly did not keep her word.”

Ms. Sobecki, who is on the school board but no longer its president, said she never made a guarantee to the pair. She said she couldn’t, since board presidents only have one vote.

“There were no promises made,” she said. “I can’t make that promise. I’m one vote on the board.”

Pastor Culp did not return calls requesting comment. Whether promises were made and ignored, Ms. Meeks-Speller’s firing has left some in the African-American community claiming bias, and it also likely will lead to legal battles. Dennis Grant, Ms. Meeks-Speller’s attorney, said he expects to file an appeal of her termination next week in Lucas County Court of Common Pleas.

Ms. Meeks-Speller was placed on administrative suspension Aug. 8 pending possible termination. The board referred her case to a state mediator, whose decisions are not binding. The mediator rejected most of the claims against Ms. Meeks-Speller, who most recently worked at Spring Elementary.

In its decision to fire Ms. Meeks-Speller, the board was critical of the referee’s report, which it said missed important information and drew false conclusions.

Pastor Bedford said he believes that many of the allegations against her are based in cultural differences between Ms. Meeks-Speller and some TPS staff, and he said some witnesses against her have been inconsistent in their allegations.

Pastor Bedford said there was no evidence of outright racial bias against Ms. Meek-Speller, but that he felt she had been treated differently than other staff.

“The treatment of her as a minority is not the same as the treatment of (staff) who are nonminority,” he said.

TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko said he disagreed with Pastor Bedford’s claim, but couldn't comment further because of the pending litigation.

The referral of the matter to an outside mediator, Pastor Bedford said, was framed by Ms. Sobecki and TPS administrators as an unbiased process. In return, the two pastors would not publicly oppose a levy TPS had on the ballot at the time.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:

nrosenkrans@theblade.com,

419-724-6086, or on

Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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