May 25, 2015

Principal Bullying in DC Public Schools: Our Hidden Little Secret

Principal Bullying in DC Public Schools

By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

A great deal of attention has been given to bullying in schools since the inception of Bullying Prevention month which was first initiated in 2006. According to the American Psychological Association, "40% to 80% of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers."

Many say that bullying in our schools has reached epidemic proportions, but what many don’t under- stand is that bullying is not limited to just students.

Just last year at Largo Public High School former employees filed legal action against Principal Angelique Simpson-Marcus stating that she routinely belittled, berated teachers and staff and made inappropriate comments about white teachers.

A former Largo High School English teacher, Jon Everhart won a discrimination case and was awarded $350,000 by a US District Court jury. Other teachers filed similar claims citing they were fired for supporting Mr. Everhart.

Despite this court victory, Principal Simpson-Marcus remained the administrator at Largo High School and the Board of Education continued to defend this principal as an effective leader. No surprise there.

A 2014 National Survey on workplace bullying defined bullying as repeated mistreatment; and abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, work sabotage, or verbal abuse. This is consistent with the definition used in the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Even with this high threshold, workplace bullying remains an American epidemic. Bullied individuals pay dearly with the loss of their economic livelihood to stop it. In the absence of legal prohibitions against it, employers are failing to take responsibility for its prevention and correction.

As the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU)  General Vice President, I hear countless stories of DC Public Schools teachers being bullied by their own local school principals. Like spousal abuse, this is our dirty little secret.

The extent to which our teachers suffer at the hands of cruel administrators is a hidden fact of school life.  AT TES Connect, an education website based in the UK, reports that one out of three teachers says he or she has experienced bullying at work.

Some of the workplace bullying complaints that have been alleged right here on our doorsteps have occurred at Jefferson MS, Lafayette ES, Orr ES (2014), Truesdell EC, Watkins ES (2014), and West EC. Out of all of the complaints I have received on workplace bullying; only one teacher was willing to come forward. 

Not unlike the School Board in Prince George's County Public Schools, our central office district administrators often look the other way and decry that they won't investigate unless teachers come forward individually to make complaints directly to them.

Why would teachers come forward especially when there is an imbalance of power between them and their perpetrator principal? Many teachers that I speak to feel that if they come forward they will loose their jobs or will have their Impact performance evaluations lowered by retaliatory administrators.

Last year a former DCPS teacher from one of our elementary schools launched an anonymous survey among her teacher colleagues and provided data that showed that 71% of the teachers would leave the school if a comparable job was available elsewhere due to workplace bullying.

When this information was presented by WTU to our district central office requesting an investigation into the complaints, DCPS refused to investigate the allegations and only agreed to speak to the principal.

R. March, a former 41 year educator summed it up this way- "The role of the principal is too often seen as one of monarchy by those who attain the rank. To these bullies, their school is their fiefdom and they behave accordingly. The public schools system is a perfect structure for the proliferation of the tyrant."

One might ask what is the affect on students when workplace bullying goes unchecked? Many of our teachers quit or voluntarily transfer to other schools, which contributes to the high turnover/teacher churn in many of our schools.

Teacher churn contributes to the lack of stability in our schools and contributes to lower student achievement.DC Public Schools administrators should treat principal/administrator bullying as a serious threat.

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center states on their blog, "It behooves school leadership to protect the entire educational community from bullying-teachers included."

If you know of a workplace bullying story in DC Public Schools, please feel free to share it with me @  Confidentiality assured.

- © Candi Peterson 2015


Anonymous said...

BRAVO!!!! Thank you for discussing this topic on your blog Candi. Workplace bullying is a real issue and impacts teachers greatly. Workplace bullying causes stress, anxiety, depression and physical issues (e.g. cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure). Not to mention bullying staff causes high turnover and lowered productivity due to staff departure and sick leave. So you ask...why do managers bully their staff if it costs more? The simple answer is power. Bullying and Workplace bullying especially is about a power imbalance. The current climate in DCPS is all about a power imbalance. How can we end this problem? The culture and climate of the entire system needs to change! From the top down, the leadership in DCPS needs to be respectful...point blank! Let's admit that we as a system have a problem and do something to solve it. As educators, we are in the position to teach children based on the way we act. If we are immersed in a bullying culture, what are we really teaching our children?

Anonymous said...

As an update, the leadership at West has turned over and the alleged bullying principal has been reassigned. If you are being bullied in the workplace, don't suffer in silence. Speak up!

Anonymous said...

Do we know if the West reassignment was related at all to these complaints? My understanding is that she was promoted to a position in central office as some kind of principal mentor..

Anonymous said...

Ms. Hubbard is the principal at Raymond EC. She's widely known as a workplace bully and the Chancellor and others praise her. Doesn't DCPS respect and promote bullying principals and cover up their wrongdoings?

Anonymous said...

And this Administrator is still employed??? If it were a Teacher or someone else, they would be TERMINATED.