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PUSD Facing Possible Lawsuit Over Principal

Struggle over Madison Principal could move into legal showdown

Published on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 | 12:00 pm

In the next phase of a nearly six-month battle over the imposition of a new principal at Madison Elementary School, local civil rights attorneys Dale Gronemeier and Elbie J. Hickambottom, Jr. have announced that they are filing a discrimination lawsuit against the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD).

“Your decision to unilaterally impose Juan Ruelas on the Madison community and to thumb your nose at teacher and parental input has been met with a firestorm of resistance and criticism,” the attorneys wrote in an October 30 letter to PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald.

“We are doing our due diligence preparatory to filing a lawsuit on the grounds that the decision is discriminatory against the Latino students, faculty, parents, and community that is served by Madison,” the letter added.

At least 11 teachers reportedly have voluntarily and involuntarily transferred out of Madison since McDonald announced Ruelas’ appointment on June 15, 2015, without the usual input from a site selection committee composed of teachers and parents.

According to the attorneys’ letter and numerous other teachers, that process had been used for four other PUSD elementary principals selected during this and past academic years at Sierra Madre, Altadena, Willard, and McKinley, but not for Madison.

As Pasadena Now previously reported, Ruelas had achieved high student test scores at Roosevelt Elementary School, and had come highly recommended by Superintendent McDonald.

Madison is the most heavily Latino school in PUSD with 95% Latino enrollment.

The attorneys represent Pablo Alvarado, the Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the Community Council for Empowerment and Justice at Madison (CCEJAM), and a resident living near Madison. CCEJAM is an organization of parents, teachers, and community members who have been challenging McDonald’s imposition of Ruelas as Madison’s principal.

The letter to McDonald also protested PUSD’s failing to produce any documents in response to an October 6 Public Records Act request for documents relating to selection panels for Sierra Madre, Altadena, Willard and McKinley elementary schools. According to the attorneys, PUSD produced only records concerning the selection panels’ interviewing of candidates, but no records concerning the decisions to use or not use selection panels.

“Your differential treatment of those stakeholders on the basis of Latino ethnicity establishes a prima facie case of impermissible discrimination,” the attorneys wrote. “The public records that (our) clients seek are centrally relevant to whether those decisions have bona fide educational justifications, or whether they are pretextual rationales that mask the operation of ethnically-discriminatory bias.”

Former and now retired Madison Elementary School principal Sandra Macis also weighed in on the issue.

In a recent e-mail to Pasadena Now, she wrote, “His unilateral style of ‘my way or the highway’ leaves no room for collaboration or discussion.” Macis herself also recently participated in a public demonstration at the October PUSD monthly board meeting.

A number of teachers have also voiced their disapproval of not only the appointment of Ruelas, but his management style as well. Macis’ e-mail compiled a number of complaints from Madison teachers.

“By the first week he had created a hostile threatening and fearful learning environment,” said Roxana Daly, a 24-year veteran teacher. Daly took a voluntary transfer this semester.

“He (Ruelas) was furious that I exercise my leadership, but I am not going to allow a bully to ruin my professional reputation,” said Kathy Goethel, a 22-year veteran teacher who transferred out.

“He welcomes the imported (non-Madison-residents) parents and gets rid of the local Madison parents. Fully credentialed parent volunteers are sent to the Volunteer Room to do menial handcrafts instead of helping in their son/daughters classroom,” said Sonia Palombo, parent volunteer who was allegedly denied access to her son’s classroom.

“They report to him (on walkie-talkies). Teachers are watched all the time, it’s like a prison,” Peralta said.

Segundo Belmar, an 18-year veteran teacher, told Pasadena Now in the Macis e-mail, “He retaliates at teachers by creating unannounced classrooms visits and personally said to me,’I don’t care what you do or who you complain to I am here to stay.'”

Belmar said she would return to Madison as soon as Ruelas is placed on an administrative leave.

Mercedes Santoro, PUSD spokesperson, responding to the accusations and complaints about Ruelas’ appointment and management style by, said that “a total of nine teachers have requested volunteer transfers from Madison Elementary School since July 2015. The District recognizes the value of our teachers and the experience they bring to the classroom. They have been received well at their new PUSD school sites, and we look forward to their continued service to students on behalf of the District.

“Currently long-term substitute teachers are providing instruction to Madison students as Principal Ruelas and the District begin recruitment. Parents and teachers from Madison Elementary School will assist Principal Ruelas in the selection process of their new teachers, which will follow PUSD guidelines.”

Meanwhile, the attorneys’ letter called the District’s response to their requests as “blatantly fraudulent” and “stonewalling,” adding that the selection documents “are relevant to whether PUSD has violated the constitutional rights of the students, faculty, parents, and other stakeholders in the Madison community to equal protection of the laws by discriminatory conduct which denies participation in principal selection to the highest-Latino-populated school in the District while extending that right to participate to the same stakeholders in the lower-Latino-populated schools in PUSD.”

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