A state referee says a Toledo Public Schools administrator who was suspended after being accused of unprofessional behavior and creating an offensive work environment should get her job back.
Sandra Meeks Speller has been on paid administrative leave since August of 2012, when a Toledo Public Schools report alleged she grabbed a student and twisted his arm. The report also claimed that when a student said her parents hit her with a fishing pole and the parents asked what she should do, Meeks Speller said "the next time instead of using a fishing pole use a baseball bat."
The report recommended Meeks Speller be fired, but after she requested a hearing with the Toledo Public School Board, the board elected to forward the case to a state-appointed referee.
In a decision released Tuesday Referee Anthony L. Gretick, a retired Williams County Municipal Court Judge, recommended Meeks Speller be reinstated.
Gretick says Meeks Speller had a "stellar career as a teacher of mathematics and as a Vice Principal of Scott High School," and faults the district for not providing peer mentoring when she was transferred to the elementary level.
"At DeVeaux, [Meeks Speller] was the only female administrator and the only African-American administrator. As such, to a great extent she served as an important link to the majority African-American community which is served by DeVeaux, which her early evaluations indicated," the report continues. "Ms. Speller was probably not accepted into the all-white male administrative hierarchy at DeVeaux which she described as "old boys' network."
After her time at DeVeaux, Meeks Speller was transferred to Spring Elementary. The report says the unfavorable reputation she had with other administrators at DeVeaux appeared to travel with her to Spring.
"Based on events, it would appear that [DeVeaux principal] Mr. Henderly "poisoned the well" for Ms. Speller which, effectively, prevented her from having the fresh start or clean slate which she had been promised and which she expected. This is further evidenced by the fact that Ms. Dipman began keeping a "log" on Ms. Speller from almost the first day of school," the report says.
Gretick's report concludes "based on all the foregoing, it is the finding and conclusion of the Referee that the Administration has failed to carry the burden that the conduct by Ms. Speller of which she has been accused which has been proven by competent evidence is good unjust cause for the termination. Whereupon, it is the Recommendation of the Referee that Ms. Sandra Meeks Speller should not be terminated."
Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerome Pecko issued a statement Tuesday saying the district has received the report, and that the board will review Gretick's recommendations at an upcoming meeting.
The incidents are alleged to have happened when Meeks Speller was assistant principal at Spring Elementary, and in her earlier time at Deveaux Middle School. At least one former Deveaux student who knew Meeks Speller during her time there says she was not surprised by the allegations.
"She would have them like up against the wall. She would grab people by their shoulders and arms and would yell at them for like really no reason," said Hayley Tallent.
Click here to read the full report from the state-appointed referee.
Click here to read the Toledo Public Schools response to the finding.