Noelle Roni had served as the principal of the Peak to Peak Charter School in Colorado for eight years when she was fired last November. Matthew Hill, a Peak to Peak parent, told the Denver Post that Roni’s termination was “shrouded in mystery.” He said, “This decision to fire her in mid-year is a very negative precedent for our teachers. We don’t know why Ms. Roni was fired. The last objective evidence we have is that she did well on her evaluations.” Hill said that neither Kelly Reeser, the school’s executive director, nor any of the board members have any teaching experience. He added that they “made their decision without understanding the confusion and anxiety it would provoke. He noted that teachers at Peak to Peak aren’t tenured and depend on performance evaluations for continued employment.”
Last November, Roni released a public statement—but it wasn’t until this January that she spoke out about the reason for her firing. Roni claimed that she lost her position at the Lafayette charter school “after she demanded that cafeteria workers stop stamping the hands of children – including those who qualified for the free lunch program – when their lunch accounts were empty.” The former principal told the Boulder Daily Camera that as soon as she saw it happening she thought, “No, this is not OK.” She added, “The students felt so humiliated, like they had done something wrong. They didn’t want to go into the lunchroom any more. It’s unethical and disrespectful.”
Roni reportedly was told that “some children were too embarrassed to go through the lunch line because of the practice.” She told CBS News that the kids were being “branded.” She asked, “Where’s the human compassion?” She added, “And these are little children.”
From Raw Story:
A memo from Roni’s lawyer explained that Roni had asked cafeteria workers to stop stamping the hands of children who couldn’t afford lunch once she discovered the practice. After cafeteria workers continued stamping children’s hands, Roni met with the food services manager and other school leaders.
According to the memo, everyone agreed that the stamping practice should stop and the food services manager resigned. But only three weeks later, Roni was contacted by a grantparent (sic), Evelyn Bernstein, who was upset that her grandchildren were getting their hand stamped, even though they qualified for free lunches.
Roni’s lawyer said that after she refused to take the blame for the food services manager’s resignation, a disciplinary letter was placed in her file for “unprofessional conduct.”
“[Executive Director Kelly Reeser] used this incident and my stance against it as an example of my being unprofessional and insubordinate, which eventually led to me being terminated,” Roni told the paper. “You put kids first. That’s more important than whether I’m going to get along with my co-worker.”
Roni said that she had had “passionate discussions with her bosses before.” Still, she was “stunned by their response.” She continued, “I was shocked that their reaction was not outrage. That it was more of ‘Who are you to tell us not to do this?’”
Peak to Peak Charter School sent an email to parents last November informing them of the principal’s dismissal. The school insisted that Roni’s termination “was not a form of retaliation after she claimed she had complained about a hostile work environment.” At that time, Roni said that she had refused to sign a buyout offer because “it would have put me in a position of not being able to explain myself to the community I love.” She added, “It would also prevent me from trying to undo the damage that continues to be waged on my reputation and character by the ongoing speculation. I believe that I was retaliated against for standing up for children’s rights and against activities that stigmatized children.”
In addition to Matthew Hill, a number of other Peak to Peak parents were also upset when they found out that Roni had been fired. They think she may have been a “victim of politics.” One parent was quoted as saying, “I feel she was bullied, and we want her back.” Following Roni’s dismissal, the parents “organized a group, Concerned Parents of Peak to Peak, which says it works to “restore trust of our teachers and staff after [Roni’s] abrupt termination.”
From the Concerned Parents group’s website: “Regardless of whether Ms. Roni can be reinstated or not, members of this group want Peak to Peak to take steps to restore her reputation in the educational community, a reputation that has been unfairly tarnished by the events of this fall.”
The school’s board of directors would not “directly address the allegations regarding hand stamping.” The board did, however, say in a statement that “Peak to Peak does not condone or tolerate unlawful retaliation.”
NOTE: It has been reported that other schools in the Denver area notify parents when their children don’t have money for lunch instead of stamping their hands. Unlike traditional public schools, however, a charter school is allowed to set its own policies.
Commentary from Diane Ravitch: “there is often a good reason for regulations to protect children, the same regulations that charters are free to ignore.”
Charter School Principal: Fired for Trying to Stop Child Abuse (Diane Ravitch)