The Case of Charter School Principal Noelle Roni Who Said She Was Fired for Opposing a “Disrespectful” Practice

SchoolClassroomSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Blogger

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.”

SOURCES

Noelle Roni, ex-Peak to Peak principal, says she was fired over hand-stamping flap: Charter school’s board declines to address allegations (Boulder Daily Camera)

Noelle Roni, Former School Principal, Says She Was Fired For Opposing ‘Disrespectful’ Practice (Huffington Post)

Principal stopped school’s shaming free lunch kids with hand stamps, says it got her fired (Raw Story)

Colo. principal says she was fired over “disrespectful” policy towards poor children (CBS News)

Charter School Principal: Fired for Trying to Stop Child Abuse (Diane Ravitch)

Was This School Principal Axed for Defending Low-Income Kids? (Yahoo)

Peak to Peak board breaks silence, calls ex-principal Noelle Roni’s allegations ‘baseless': Board admits firing principal, but says it wasn’t form of ‘retaliation’ (Denver Post)

32 thoughts on “The Case of Charter School Principal Noelle Roni Who Said She Was Fired for Opposing a “Disrespectful” Practice

  1. Given the way some politicians refer to people living in poverty, it appears as if “shaming” IS the goal. Hey, why not start the shaming process when they are tots? I hope the parents and the excommunicated principal prevail on behalf of the children.

  2. After reading this column and a couple of other online articles… I dont understand what’s meant by: “Roni’s lawyer said that after she refused to take the blame for the food services manager’s resignation,”

    Who was making the food services manager resign and why was that an issue that required someone “take blame”? Who was the school needing to “defend” that manager’s decision against?

    I’m not seeing why the manager felt resigning was a necessary option, or why the director would weeks later request this principal take some sort of “blame” for the resignation, or why that would be a necessary thing to do, or what in the world that would even entail…

    Up until that point… it sounds like they had a meeting about the stamping practice, agreed it would not continue, and that was that.

    If the Director had said, “nope, we’re gonna keep doing it” and the principal kept objecting, then I could understand the firing and even an ensuing public objection…. but it doesnt sound like that’s what actually happened….

    Kind of a bizarre story.

  3. They should have given her a raise not fired her. With all the school shootings we have going on the last thing we need is to humiliate our children in front of their peers. She has compassion which is unfortunately rare these days. We need more people like her looking out for children in this way.

  4. Interesting article, Elaine. When I was in grade school, every year the school would send letters around to the parents announcing ‘shot day’. In order for the student to receive a shot, the parent had to sign and date the form and it was to be returned to the school…by the student. Since I hated needles (and still do), somehow that slip never made it home (and my mom never wondered why my two sisters classes were getting shots but not mine). Point is, notes from the school always manage to get lost; kids always manage to forget to give them to the parents, etc. Perhaps this was a way to make sure that the parents understood that the children’s lunch account was empty. Something I found interesting. Was the stamp indelible ink? If not, wouldn’t it wash off when the children washed their hands after eating? I agree that this is a VERY poor way to let parents know what’s going on and had I been a parent of one of those students, I would have removed that student from that school. I certainly don’t think the principal should be fired over this. It would be interesting to find out a little more about the relationship between this principal and her staff.

  5. Maybe they should further shame the children by making them sweep floors and help out the custodian for their lunches. You know these kids have no role models, right? Oops sorry I’m channeling Newt.

  6. annie,

    Don’t forget Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA):

    Jack Kingston Says There’s ‘No Such Thing As Free Lunch,’ But Gets Free Lunch All The Time
    The Huffington Post | By Ashley Alman
    Posted: 01/10/2014
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/10/jack-kingston-free-lunch_n_4572915.html

    Excerpt:
    WASHINGTON — Weeks after Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) made headlines for suggesting low-income students sweep cafeteria floors to learn there’s “no such thing as free lunch,” Savannah TV station WSAV 3 looked at the “free lunches” Kingston himself has received as a member of Congress.

    There’s no precise way to count the number of lunches Kingston has enjoyed on taxpayer dollars, but the station took a look at expense reports and disclosures to uncover staggering figures from the congressman’s three years in office.

    According to the station’s investigation, Kingston and his staff have expensed $4,182 worth of “meals for business purposes,” and recorded $4,289.33 in free meals from third-party interest groups, including the Congressional Institute and the Georgia Bankers Association.

  7. This omnipotence by the administration and the disregarding of the rights and interests of the teachers and the students is one of the main ingredients on the dismal American public school system. A distanced administration, over populated, dysfunctional, and trying to run the lives of people like a corporation is unique to the US.

  8. ScarletLetter, Exactly.

    Issac, this is a charter school, not a public school.

    A board without any background in education is a recipe for failure.

  9. Charter schools are run by boards and are not unionized. Teachers and principals and students have no protection from arrogant, crazy and our of control boards. Boards that don’t beleive in evolution, climate change or boys and girls being allowed to be in class together do exactly what they want while siphoning billions from the public treasury. It is such a scam!

  10. Elaine:

    Thanks for your work on a truly disgusting story. There are powerful elements who delight in degrading and humiliating the poor, as though poverty were a symptom of the moral corruption of its victims. This is the same mentality that promotes drug testing of welfare applicants.

  11. I agree with Justice Holmes. Charter schools have had their run. By that I mean that they have demonstrated that they are wrongly contrived and constructed. They have been around too long. They also thrive where people want to segregate their kids. As Justice Holmes said in Buck v. Bell. Three generations of imbeciles are enough. No public money should be spent on a private school.

  12. Some people just love scarlet letters as others here have alluded to in their comments. Here’s why (from Hawthorne, of course):

    “It [the scarlet letter] had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.”

    Kids don’t need to be in a “sphere” by themselves – no one does.

  13. I will second Elaine’s second of JK’s statement that it is time we brand war criminals and banksters instead of poor children getting free lunches.

  14. The kids need to start a Solidarity Movement. A high school kid, older brother can replicate a rubber stamp from a stamped hand of a kid. Then all the kids can stamp their hands in the morning before they go in. Put the stamp on the back of the school bus, on bathroom walls, in the teacher’s hiding room.

  15. I am Spartacus indeed! I love BarkinDog’s idea. I also love the idea of getting rid of the for-profit and charter schools. They are allowed to get rid of students who challenge them and they often don’t accept children who require special educational assistance. And, yes, I read that more and more of these schools refuse to teach evolution, promote Christianity and separate the two genders.

  16. Utah school takes lunches from kids with debts
    Jessica Durando
    USA TODAY Network
    1/30/2014
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/01/30/utah-school-lunch-taken/5053635/

    Excerpt:
    Parents are angry with Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City after workers took lunches from up to 40 kids with unpaid balances and threw them away, several media outlets reported.

    Salt Lake City District spokesman Jason Olsen told the Salt Lake Tribune that parents with balances were contacted via phone Monday and Tuesday. They weren’t able to reach all parents before the child-nutrition manager decided to withhold lunches to deal with the debts.

    “She took my lunch away and said, ‘Go get a milk,'” Sophia Isom, a fifth-grader at the school, told NBC affiliate KSL.com. “I came back and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ Then she handed me an orange. She said, ‘You don’t have any money in your account so you can’t get lunch.'”

  17. Elaine, that is incredibly shameful! What is wrong with some people, what happened to that inner voice that tells you something is wrong? Or perhaps the cafeteria workers were afraid of losing their jobs if they refused. So the food was thrown in the garbage, while the children went hungry.

  18. annie,

    Imagine throwing food in the grabage instead of giving it to children. One has to wonder why the cafeteria workers did that.

    *****

    Mike,

    Petty and mean-spirited is right!

  19. The cafeteria workers and this so called “Child-Nutrition” manager were acting like jackasses.

    Yep, take a balanced meal right away from the children because of their parents’ alleged balance due. Throw it in the garbage afterwards. One has to question the mission of these so called education employees.

  20. Mike and Elaine and Darren,
    I had another name to call the people that made this horrible decision, but I don’t think WordPress would allow it. I bet those kids learned a valuable lesson about the adults in charge at that school.

  21. Utah School Draws Ire For Taking Kids’ Lunches; Debt Cited
    by Bill Chappell
    January 30, 2014
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/01/30/268964470/utah-school-draws-ire-for-taking-kids-lunches-debt-cited

    Excerpt:
    Two state senators are paying a visit to an elementary school in Salt Lake City on Thursday, after reports emerged that the school had served meals to dozens of students — only to throw them away after a cashier confirmed their accounts had an outstanding balance….

    The school district’s apology met with nearly 2,000 comments after it was posted on Facebook, with critics citing passages from the Bible and calling the incident “disgusting.”

    Others noted how the note about the controversial handling of the students’ debt had come on the heels of a post about its campaign to fight child hunger, called Souper Bowl of Caring.

  22. “Others noted how the note about the controversial handling of the students’ debt had come on the heels of a post about its campaign to fight child hunger, called Souper Bowl of Caring”
    ~+~
    Souper Bowl of Caring. Now that takes the cake, (from the children that is). Of course there had to be some meaningless gobbledygook crafted by these people to whitewash what was really going on. They probably spent more time sitting around some table for hours and zero time thinking of the ramnifications of their insensitivity to the children they claim to be benefiting.

    Stereotypical Bureaucrat Wonks. I bet they have mission statement too.

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