News: Low-Grade Management

Teacher raises new questions about principal at Walnut Hills

Jun 2, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Cameron Knight

Mose Cartier says he was fired from a teaching job at Walnut Hills High School soon after refusing to change a grade at the request of a student's mother.

A teacher is raising new questions about grade-changing at Walnut Hills High School, less than nine months after the Cincinnati board of Education cleared the principal of similar allegations.

Mose Cartier began the current school year as a history teacher at Walnut Hills. But just days after he refused a parent's request to change a student's grade, he says, Principal Marvin Koenig fired him.

Cartier, a Walnut Hills alumnus, began teaching at the college prep school during the 2002-03 academic year. After school Nov. 20, 2003, a mother approached him about her daughter's grades.

"She said, 'Teachers have made accommodations for me before. What can you do for my daughter?' " Cartier says.

On Nov. 24, Assistant Principal Stephanie Morten conducted a classroom observation of Cartier. Despite a flawless evaluation the year before, Morten made a variety of negative observations.

Cartier says those observations were inconsistent and included information impossible for Morten to observe.

For example, the observation says Cartier "is not always on time for first period class, leaving students standing in hall." But Morten made the observation between 12:55 and 1:35 p.m. — more than five hours after school began.

More blatant, says Cartier, is the observation, "Students have taken tests that have not been counted." Cartier says he didn't count a test students took earlier in the year, because so many students failed; but that test wasn't mentioned when Morten was in the classroom.

On Dec. 1 — the day students returned from Thanksgiving break — Cartier says Koenig and Morten entered his room, demanded his grade book, said his services were no longer needed and asked for his classroom key.

Firing drill
Cartier filed a grievance Dec. 11 for wrongful termination.

He isn't the first to raise concerns about grade-changing at Walnut Hills. Former Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn submitted a complaint to the district last year, accusing Koenig of changing grades and allowing students to enroll after failing or without even taking the entrance test.

The school board investigated and found that 14 students were allowed to enroll at the school without taking the entrance exam. The board couldn't substantiate instances of grade changing and took no disciplinary action against Koenig.

Part of Koenig's legacy is his ability to raise money for the school from private donors. Cartier says that's a problem when donors' children attend Walnut Hills.

The timing of Cartier's dismissal from Walnut Hills is curious. But its handling by the district's Human Resources Department raises other questions.

A Dec. 22 letter from Keith Grace, a human resources compliance officer, said Cartier was still on active pay status and directed him to report to Koenig's office on Jan. 5, 2004.

Jerome Tuggle, a representative of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, went with him. When Cartier arrived at the school, he says, Morten wanted him to sign the Nov. 24 observation report. Tuggle said Cartier had come only to return to work. Cartier then went to human resources, where he says Grace couldn't clarify the Dec. 22 notice he'd written.

On Jan. 24, Cartier received another letter from Grace, dated Jan. 20.

"Please be cognizant of the fact that you are still a Cincinnati Public Schools employee and on active pay status from Dec. 3-19," the letter said. "As an employee, if you refuse an assignment or fail to report to an assignment that you are qualified to perform, you will be considered absent without leave. You will be considered to have voluntarily resigned from CPS if you do not contact the human resources office by Jan. 26."

Grace seems unable to explain that letter either. A reporter asked Grace what assignment he had referred to.

"It doesn't say there was one," Grace says.

Cartier faxed Grace a response Jan. 26 — a snow day — saying he intended to report to work the next day. He also disputed Grace's statement that the board had maintained his pay status, saying Koenig told him he was terminated, his health insurance had been terminated and he received no compensation for the Dec. 3-19 pay period.

Grace last week declined to say whether Cartier had been paid, but he said Cartier was still employed. Does that mean Cartier should have been teaching at Walnut Hills despite the fact that Koenig fired him?

"You'd have to talk to Mr. Koenig about that," Grace said.

Koenig did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

The students vote no
When Cartier returned to Walnut Hills Jan. 27, a teacher in his classroom told him to report to the principal. Morten told Cartier he no longer worked at Walnut Hills and threatened to call security.

Cartier then received a Feb. 13 letter from Grace instructing him to attend a disciplinary hearing Feb. 20 to address his "unprofessional behavior at Walnut Hills and going to a classroom without authorization." Cartier attended the hearing, but Koenig and Morten didn't.

Grace said he'd reschedule the meeting, according to Cartier. This is where things get strange.

Cartier's wife found a hand-delivered letter from the Human Resources Department in the family's mailbox the evening of Feb. 26. The letter said, "This is to notify you that the disciplinary conference has been rescheduled for Friday, Feb. 27."

The letter, dated Feb. 27, violated a three-day notice provision in Cartier's contract. Human Resources rescheduled the hearing for March 8.

At that hearing, the administration attempted to use a student statement and two teacher statements as evidence of Cartier's unprofessional behavior Jan. 27.

The teacher statements contradict in terms of timing, and neither mentions any unprofessional behavior. One of the statements is dated Jan. 26, the day before the incident. That date is crossed out and replaced by a handwritten date of Jan. 27.

The statement by a student says Cartier stated, "I'm here to take my class back." The same statement says, "We as a class, I representing them, unanimously decided we did not want Mr. Cartier back."

Administrators refused to name the student and refused to give Cartier or his union representative an opportunity to confront the teachers or the student.

On March 17, Cartier received another hand-delivered letter, this one dated March 10. It instructed Cartier to report to Taft High School for an assignment the next morning. Despite the notice of less than a day, Cartier showed up at Taft to find himself overseeing students at the Alternative to Expulsion program, a computer-based class for students with behavioral problems.

"I had no knowledge that this was coming," he says. "I think they might have been saying, 'Let's give him the worse thing we got.' "

An administrator at Withrow High School later offered Cartier a teaching position. Meanwhile, he fears the school board's dismissal of complaints against Koenig last year reinforced bad practices at the school. ©