BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando middle school principal and school district administrator are demanding their jobs back, saying they were discriminated against by the superintendent and removed from their positions, according to two letters sent to the School Board.
The letters allege superintendent Bryan Blavatt forced Fox Chapel Middle School principal Barbara Kidder to resign after she refused to accept a demotion, and that director of student services Mary-Grace Surrena was wrongfully let go.
Blavatt said he did not discriminate.
"My intent has nothing to do with gender," he said. "It has to do with getting the best people in the best positions to do what is best for students."
He noted that the person replacing Surrena is a woman and that numerous top officials, including the assistant superintendent, are women.
The letter on behalf of Kidder says she has suffered from a number of instances of gender discrimination and a hostile work environment because of Blavatt. Among the most severe: The letter claims Blavatt told numerous people he wanted a "male presence" at Fox Chapel Middle School. He also repeatedly referred to Kidder as "dear."
"It is unfortunate that she was forced to retire as the only option short of accepting a demotion with no articulated rational basis other than Superintendent Blavatt's preference for a 'male' in her position," the letter reads.
Asked if he said he wanted more of a "male presence," Blavatt said he didn't think that it was such an unusual statement.
Often it's done for practical reasons: For example, to make sure a male administrator is available to handle an incident in a boys' locker room.
Kidder was appointed principal at Fox Chapel in July 2010 and has been with the district for nearly 18 years and in education for more than 35 years.
Surrena was the district's director of student services for less than a year and had been groomed for years to take over the job from Jim Knight, who retired last year. Felita Lott is scheduled to take over the position.
Blavatt offered Surrena a position as a school psychologist, a job she had held in the past, and asked her to acknowledge that she was accepting the position voluntarily. She refused to do so, then was not re-appointed to her student services job.
Blavatt said he tried to offer Surrena and Kidder jobs "appropriate to where I thought they would be successful," he said.
"I don't ever want to be in a situation where I take away a person's livelihood," he said.