A report from a law firm hired to conduct an outside review clears Northview school officials of bullying special education students while they were investigating whether the students had been told to cheat on standardized tests.
The legal team from Bloomfield Hills-based Beier Howlett presented findings this week to Northville Public Schools officials and the seven families who participated in the inquiry, The Observer & Eccentric reports.
Two teachers – Jennifer Warnock and Lynn Traxler – resigned in January after they had been accused of telling students to perform poorly on the NWEA assessment test in the fall and then perform at their abilities in the spring to make the teachers look good.
When the school district began questioning students as part of their investigation into the matter, some students complained that they felt “interrogated” or bullied.
The lawyers said allegations that Assistant Principal Katie Shirk and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dave Rodgers bullied the students were unfounded and the two were acting within their legal bounds and in accordance with school policy.
Mary Roy, one of the parents who requested the review of the district’s handling of the matter, told The Observer & Eccentric she was disappointed but not surprised by the findings because the school district paid the law firm to conduct it.
She took exception to the attorneys’ conclusion that each of the individuals interviewed for the report “viewed the situation through their own perception and lens” and therefore come away with different opinions about what happened.
“The final analysis that this was a case of ‘perceptions’ feels like such a bail-out on the part of the attorneys,” Roy said. “I will never be convinced that David Rodgers and Katie Shirk did not go into that room with each of those kids intending anything other than intimidation.”
In their report, the investigators “fully acknowledge that some of the students involved found the entire situation intimidating, however, the intent of bullying was not present.” the external report stated. Bullying in itself comes from a place of unlawful or illegal purpose, but that was not the case in the administrators’ inquiry, according to the report.
The attorneys did note “unintended and unanticipated consequences” of the administrators’ investigation, but reiterated their actions did not amount to bullying.
School board members said the Beier Howlett and other reviews of the district’s handling of the allegations is a call that district communication should be improved.
“We should have done a better job with the parental contact,” school board vice president Ken Roth
“There are always lessons to be learned from any issue or concern that impacts our district, as well as opportunities to strengthen our practices while maintaining an unyielding focus on student learning as the core mission of Northville Public Schools,” Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher said.
The district conducted its own review of the situation. Among its conclusions was that officials should take extra steps to make the interview environment as comfortable and non-intimidating as possible for the students, especially when students are not the focus of the investigation.