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Hernando school administrator claims discrimination in demotion

BROOKSVILLE — Earlier this month, Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt said stagnant student performance at Deltona Elementary prompted him to reassign principal Betty Harper to an assistant principal post at another school.

Harper now says she is a victim of discrimination and is seeking help from the federal government.

The 59-year-old veteran African-American school administrator has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Blavatt confirmed Tuesday.

Blavatt refused to provide more details to the St. Petersburg Times, citing advice from the school district's attorney.

The EEOC does not release pending complaints, a spokesman said. Harper did not return messages left at her office and on her cell phone.

School administrators, Blavatt noted, work on one-year contracts and can be relieved of their posts at the direction of the superintendent with approval from the School Board. The board will consider Blavatt's reappointment recommendations at a special meeting Thursday.

"It's not an easy decision," he said. "It's the worst part of my job, and it's not a personal thing at all. If someone's not effective in doing their job, I have to do what I think is appropriate."

Employees can file a complaint if they suspect they've been discriminated against because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or age. Complaints are often addressed in mediation. If not, or if mediation fails, an EEOC investigator will take the case, according to the commission's website.

If an investigation finds a violation, the commission seeks a voluntary settlement with the employer. If that fails, the case goes to the commission's legal staffers to decide whether the agency should file a lawsuit. The employee can sue if the commission opts not to.

Earlier this month, Blavatt told the Times his decision was not a result of the recent controversy at Deltona surrounding an employee who was kicked in the groin by a student.

The paraprofessional, Tedd Weiser, complained to the district saying that Harper failed to notify law enforcement officials of the incident. Blavatt wrote a reprimand letter to Harper for failing to follow policy, and she responded that she investigated the incident and didn't find grounds to contact authorities.

On Tuesday, Blavatt acknowledged the incident was a factor in his overall assessment of progress at the school.

"I guess the operative term is leadership, and leadership involves moving things forward," he said.

Blavatt also reassigned Moton Elementary principal Debi Vermette to the Deltona principal post. Both schools are exceptional education centers, and Vermette has a proven track record in that area, Blavatt said.

He also moved Deltona assistant principal Joanne Gousse to the same position at Moton.

Harper is taking a sizable pay cut. Her salary as principal was $82,859.47. Her new salary at West Hernando is $71,725.00. She has a master's degree in social work and an education specialist degree in education leadership.

Harper was a school social worker in Queens, N.Y., for seven years before moving to Florida in 1990. She worked two years as a social worker at Pasco Middle School, then joined the Hernando district in the student services division.

After five years in the central office, Harper served as a school social worker at Moton Elementary for a year. She took an assistant principal post at Central High in 1998 and in 2003 was tapped by then-superintendent Wendy Tellone for the top job at Hernando High.

At that point Hernando High had a C grade in the state's accountability system based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores. The school dropped to a D grade the next year and kept that grade through the remaining four years Harper served as principal.

In 2008, then-superintendent Wayne Alexander moved her to Deltona. The percentages of students performing at or above grade level in math, reading, writing and science in the 2009-2010 school year dropped from the previous year, though the school still retained its B grade.

This year, the first time students took the new FCAT 2.0 based on more rigorous academic standards, Deltona was one of eight Hernando elementary schools that saw steep declines in fourth-grade math scores. Deltona also had a 6 percent drop in the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level in fifth-grade math.

There were bright spots, too, though. Deltona was one of only five elementary schools that saw increases in fourth-grade reading scores, and also made slight gains in fifth-grade reading scores.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando school administrator claims discrimination in demotion 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 8:06pm]
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