Schools
 

911 tape: Teacher claims principal blocked her in school when she tried to quit

A former teacher at a Gentilly Woods charter school told a 911 call-taker last month that her boss would not allow her to leave the school when she tried to resign, according to records obtained by The Lens.

On Sept. 26, the teacher at Mary D. Coghill Charter School called 911 after trying to resign because she was being held in her classroom by the principal, she told the emergency call-taker. The teacher requested that her name not be used in this story out of concern for her future job prospects.

“I came to get my stuff to resign and they’re refusing to let me out of the building with my things,” the teacher told the operator.

“I have the principal and a board member — or whoever he is — trying to stop me,” she said.

In a five-minute 911 recording The Lens obtained through a public records request, the teacher told the call-taker that she was trying to take her own supplies and materials from the Gentilly Woods elementary school and leave the building. The teacher’s name has been redacted in public records of the incident.

“Are you an ex-employee?” the call-taker asked.

“I’m leaving now. I resigned and I’m trying to get my things and leave,” she said. “And they’re blocking my door and telling me I cannot leave the school with my stuff.”

Coghill Principal Pamela Marshall referred The Lens to Coghill’s lawyer Michelle Craig. Craig issued a statement via email.

“The teacher entered the school at noon and started removing items from the class without any prior discussion with the Principal. Given her behavior, the administration attempted to [defuse] the situation. At that time, as always, the best interest of the students remained the school’s primary concern,” Craig said.

At one point on the 911 call the teacher said, apparently to someone else in the room, “I’m not arguing with you. I just want to get my stuff and leave.”

During the 911 call, the employee said she was willing to let a security guard search her things, but that she wanted to leave with her own supplies.

“I told them she can search my stuff if she wants to,” she said. “I just want my stuff so I can leave their school. I was a teacher here. I’m unhappy. And I don’t want to work here anymore.”

The incident was upgraded from a non-emergency to an emergency before police officers arrived on scene at about 3 p.m., 20 minutes after the 911 call.  Police officers took two hours to close the incident. But “there was no evidence found that a crime was committed,” New Orleans Police Department spokesman Gary Scheets said in an email.

No charges were filed, and officers marked the incident as “necessary action taken,” meaning no police report was filed.

In a resignation letter emailed to school administration days later, the teacher called the event a “traumatic experience” and said she was forced to call 911.

“ANY worker at ANY job has the right to resign and peacefully collect their belongings without retaliation and confrontation from their supervisors and/or others,” she wrote in the email. “Find enclosed my letter of resignation, which I would have presented to you then, if I had been given the safe opportunity to do so.”

The formal letter attached to that email cites a lack of discipline at the school as a reason for her resignation.

“Due to the extenuating circumstances that exist with discipline (rather, lack thereof) and the absence of behavioral management protocol system in place for students at Mary Dora Coghill Charter School; in addition to unprofessionalism, unfair treatment and practices, and a lack of day-to-day stability among other things, I RESIGN,”  she wrote.

The Orleans Parish school district oversees the 600-student charter school. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. Unlike traditional schools, charter schools decide who they hire and what type of curriculum to use. In return for that freedom, schools must meet the district’s academic, operational and financial benchmarks. The district did not respond to a request for comment.

The school is up for a contract renewal with the Orleans Parish school district next winter.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.