Heralded Furr High School principal temporarily relieved of duties

- The Houston Independent School District released the following statement on Wednesday afternoon:

The Principal at Furr High School in the Houston Independent School District has been temporarily relieved of duties due to a personnel matter. We cannot provide specific details out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved. Administrators from Central Office are working closely with the school community and the campus leadership team to ensure there is no disruption to student learning.

The principal, Bertie Simmons, was featured in the "EIF Presents: XQ Super School Live" program on Sept. 10, 2017 for her innovative educational approach on the Furr Senior High School campus.

Simmons' attorney Scott Newar sent the following letter to Houston ISD Superintendent Richard Carranza:

Dear SuperintendentCarranza:By way of introduction, I am a Texas Board-Certified Labor and Employment lawyer with over twenty-five years’ experience in trial and appellate litigation of labor/employment law disputes.Icurrently representDr. Bertie Simmons.Dr. Simmons has served as thePrincipal ofHISD’sFurr High School since 2000. Asyou wellknow, Dr. Simmons’accomplishments as the Furr High School Principal are legendary andare too numerous to recount here. Amongher many accomplishments, Dr. Simmons appliedfor and, in 2016,obtained a five-year ten million dollar ($10,000,000)grant from the XQ Projectto make Furr a “super school.”Furr High School is one of only ten (10) schools in theUnited Statesto be awarded this prestigious grant. On September 29, 2017, HISD rewarded Dr. Simmons for her numerous accomplishments—including the XQgrant—by removingher fromFurr pendingits investigation of “[a]llegations of inappropriate conduct.”See Exhibit A. According to the attached September 29, 2017 MemorandumfromDr. Jorge Arredondo, HISD’s East AreaSuperintendent, Dr. Simmons“failed to adhere to the district’s decision to relax student dress codefor the first semester and...verbally threatened students with a baseball bat.”Id.
Richard CarranzaOctober 4, 2017Page 2Dr. Arredondo’s allegationsarefalse.First, HISD did not“relax”its student dress code in the first semester of the 2017-2018school year. Rather, as the attached documents attest,HISD allowedeachindividual HISD schoolprincipalto decidewhether to “relax”itsschooldress code or not.For example,during the first week of September,Dr. James A. McSwain—Principal of LamarHigh School—informed Lamar students: Uniforms are required. If you have them, you must wear them. If you lost your uniforms in thestorm and cannot afford to purchase new ones, we will have assistance for you here at school.See Exhibit B (emphasis added).On September 5, 2017,Hogg Middle Schoolnotified its student body that Hogg’sdress code would also be enforced:We believe uniforms serve as a great equalizer and provide students with a sense of normalcy. Hogg M.S. will adhere to our uniform policy this school year with compassion.See Exhibit C (emphasisadded). Moreover, on September 6, 2017, Dr.Arredondo posted on his Facebook page that HISD had “[f]ree uniforms available for distribution at 7 sites across [sic] city.”See Exhibit D. Dr. Arredondo’s Facebook post clearly implies that HISD has not “relaxed”its uniform policy.As you know, for many years, Furr High School has been plagued with gangsand violence. To help eradicate these gangs andreduce violence, Dr. Simmons implemented a strict uniform policy.Dr. Simmons’strict uniformpolicy—among her many other pathbreakingreforms at Furr—served to reduce violence and instill discipline among the student body.Indeed, this is one of the reasons that the XQ Project awarded Furr the $10,000,000 grant. As a consequence, Dr. Simmons decided not to “relax”Furr’s uniform policy in the first semesterof thisschool year. Indeed, Dr. Simmons decided that “relaxing”the uniform policy would causean increasein gang activityand, potentially, gang violence. As the Lamar High School and Hogg Middle School documents cited above attest, Dr. Simmons’decision was well within herdiscretion and did not/does not violate HISD policy. In his September 29, 2017 Memorandum, Dr. Arredondo also states thatan “allegationhas been made...”thatDr. Simmons “verbally threatened students with a baseball bat.”See Exhibit A.

Itis noteworthythat Dr.Arredondo does not identify the person(s) whopurportedly madethis “allegation”against Dr. Simmons.Nor does Dr. Arredondo identify the “students”whom Dr. Simmons purportedly “threatened”with a “baseball bat.”Dr. Arredondo’s failure to identify Dr. Simmons’accuser(s)raises the specter that they do not exist. In any event, Dr. Arredondo’sassertionis false.During her 17 year tenure asFurr’s Principal, Dr. Simmons has routinely—albeit playfully—referredmisbehaving Furrstudents to the baseball batthat she keeps in her office. However, not once in her17 years at Furr has Dr. Simmons ever used or threatened to use thatbaseballbat or any other objectto disciplineor harmany student.As you well know, Dr. Simmons is 83 years oldandapproximately 5 feet tall. Therefore,it defies credulity and common sensethat Dr. Simmons couldobjectively threatenanyone—let alone,high school students—with a baseball bat. Hence, the “allegation”that Dr. Simmons threatened studentswith a baseball batis categorically false.However, Dr. Arredondo has not only levelled these false allegations against Dr. Simmons.On Monday, October 2, 2017, Dr. Arredondo contacted the Greater Houston Community Foundation(“GHCF”)—which is the sponsor ofthe XQ “super school”grant—in an effort to elicitdamaging information aboutDr. Simmons. Specifically, Dr. Arredondo questionedStephanie Blair—GHCF’sPhilanthropic Services Manager, who is responsible for overseeing GHCF’s distribution of the XQ grant fundsto Furr—about Dr. Simmons’use of theXQ grant funds. Ms. Blair informed Dr. Arredondo that GHCF has noconcerns about Dr. Simmons’use of theXQgrant monies. Coupled with hisSeptember 29, 2017 Memorandum—which contains no allegation that Dr. Simmonsmisappropriated or misusedXQ grantfunds—Dr. Arredondo’s October 2, 2017 call to GHCFindicatesthat HISD’srealmotivation for investigating and discipliningDr. Simmons is illegal. More specifically,Dr. Arredondoand, possibly, other HISD administrators seekto remove Dr. Simmons as Principal of Furr High School because of her age and/or race. Additionally, it appears that Dr. Arredondo and other HISD administrators seekto wresttheXQ grant from GHCF and Dr. Simmons and utilize the grant monies forpurposes for which they arenot intended. HISD’s illegal conduct has seriouslydamaged Dr. Simmons’good name and professional reputationand caused her extensive mental anguish and emotional distress.

 

Accordingly, this letter will serve as a formal demand that HISD undertake the following actions by this Friday, October 6, 2017, at 5:00 p.m.1.Reinstate Dr. Simmons to her position as Principal of FurrHigh School effective October 9, 2017;2.Remove Dr. Arredondo’s September 29, 2017 Memorandum from Dr. Simmons’personnel file; and3.Immediately ceaseand desist from any/allactionsand/orstatementsthat violate Dr. Simmons’rights under federal and state discriminationlawsThis letter will also serve as a formal demand, pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act, thatHISD produce to Dr. Simmons—through her undersigned counsel—all of the followingdocuments:1.All documents evidencing anycommunications (including emails; text messages; and Facebook posts) between Dr. Arredondo and any other HISD employee or any third party regarding Dr. Simmons’alleged violations oflaw,policy, procedure, directive, or practice, including, but not limited to, violation of the decision to “relax”the HISD uniform policy; “threatening”HISD students with a “baseball bat”; and/or misusing the XQ grant funds;2. All documents pertaining to HISD’s decision to place Dr. Simmons on administrative leave on September 29,2017;and4.All documents pertaining to HISD’s purported “relaxation”of its uniform policy in the first semester of 2017-2018On behalf of Dr. Simmons, I appreciateyour time and cooperation and look forward to yourtimely responsein accordance with federal and state law. Sincerely,/s/ Scott Newar

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