The principal of a Colorado charter school has been terminated after her protest against a cafeteria hand stamping policy. Noelle Roni spent eight years as the principal of Peak to Peak Elementary School before being fired on November 1, 2013.
In September of 2013, Roni learned that cafeteria workers were stamping the hands of children whose lunch accounts did not have sufficient funds to purchase a meal. The children were offered a cheese sandwich, but most were humiliated and embarrassed by the hand stamp. Roni was outraged, thinking that the practice made it seem as if “they had done something wrong,” and immediately tried to dismantle the practice.
Roni asked the school’s food services manager to discontinue the hand stamping. When this didn’t work, she arranged a meeting with the food services manager and school leaders to discuss the situation. It was agreed that the hand stamping would stop, but the food services manager promptly resigned.
Despite the agreement to end the practice, Roni was soon receiving complaints from grandparents and staff members who said that students’ hands were still being stamped. Meanwhile, Kelly Reeser, the school’s executive director of education, was demanding that Roni take responsibility for the exit of the food services manager. Roni refused, prompting Reeser to write a disciplinary letter that referenced Roni’s “unprofessional conduct.”
Roni was fired shortly afterward, a move she feels is retaliatory for her stance against the hand stamping practice. Moreover, Roni’s attorney asserts that her ouster was not completed in line with the school’s bylaws. These require that the principal be replaced after a public vote by the school board rather than by an administrator taking sole action.
In fact, two school board members are now facing dismissal in the wake of the firing. Parents and concerned citizens have formed an advocacy group that outspokenly disagrees with Roni’s termination, and the way it was handled. The resultant media frenzy and distraction from the primary work of the school shows that no employer can afford to terminate an employee without due process and observing the bylaws and agreements that govern such matters.
If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district legal issue.