Let the Record Reflect

This isn't the first time T.H. Rogers Principal Cathryn White has been accused of intimidating disregard for teachers and parents.

"Corrective action can and should be presented in a constructive manner. Your behavior in this case was not, as it created a hostile and intimidating environment."

Klussmann directed her to personally meet with any staff members concerning job performance, to offer them assistance and to provide an opportunity for corrective action. "Continued mishandling of employee concerns may lead to termination," he wrote.

On March 27, 2007, Klussmann notified White by mail that the board of trustees "is not extending" her two-year contract. In a March 6, 2007, e-mail from White to Klussmann, White acknowledged that Klussmann would not give her a favorable reference for a principal's job in the Cypress Fairbanks ISD.

Melissa Freeman and Patrick Henry were threatened with arrest when they tried to take their daughter Emmy to class.
Melissa Freeman and Patrick Henry were threatened with arrest when they tried to take their daughter Emmy to class.

White began her job with HISD about two months later, on June 4, 2007.

Actually, whether or not SBISD sandbagged HISD with an unwanted employee doesn't make any difference legally.

"Very little good can happen by passing on negative information," says Houston employment attorney Joe Ahmad, of Ahmad, Zavitsanos and Anaipakos, PC. A company or executive can open themselves up for a possible defamation lawsuit if they give a negative assessment, he says.

And in law, "except in rare cases, for example, where somebody was a child molester, short of these rather extreme circumstances you don't have any obligation to tell somebody that 'Hey, by the way, they were a terrible employee,'" he says. "Nobody can sue you saying, 'Hey, why didn't you tell me they were a bad employee?'"

Cathryn White, who earns $109,200 (plus any bonuses) a year, making her the fourth-highest-paid middle school principal in HISD, may actually be a very good administrator who has just had the bad luck to land more than once in a school whose teachers and administrators don't value her talents.

Or she may be one of those pass-along educators that everyone hears about — shuffled from one school or district to another, just to get rid of them. The school district sighs with relief and never looks back.

In any case, it appears that the much-touted protection provided by background checks on public school administrators actually doesn't mean squat.

Patrick Henry and Melissa Freeman are the parents of four-year-old Emberlyn, who is part of a multiply impaired class at Rogers. Despite her age, "Emmy" has the mentality of a baby between six and 18 months old, her mom says. Their only child can't walk or stand and is pushed in a wheelchair.

Her parents had been in the habit of saying a few words to her teacher as they dropped her off at school each day. "All the parents walk in the room. We'd tell her how she was doing, if she was up during the night, any new medication," Freeman says.

But one day in February, when they checked in at the front desk for their badges, they were told White had decreed they were not allowed to take Emmy to her room anymore. They proceeded anyway and were just a couple of doors away from Emmy's room when an HISD police officer (who'd seen them come in every day) threatened to arrest them, on direction from White.

"This was right in front of students, teachers and parents. It was embarrassing and humiliating. I started to cry," Freeman says.

"I put my hands behind my back and said,'Okay, do it," Henry says.

They asked for and got a meeting with White later that day. They say White lectured them and told them the meeting was "a waste of her time." She said, "You don't need to be there telling the teacher her life story," Freeman remembers. He says their protests that they weren't doing that at all went nowhere. What infuriates them even more, Henry says, is that there was no time in the meeting when White discussed their daughter. "She doesn't have a clue who Emmy is," her dad says.

White offered them a deal: They could accompany Emmy if they promised not to talk to her teacher. A week later, White wrote them a letter thanking them for the meeting and their support of what she'd outlined they should do. She wrote that they should show respect for all the staff. "We never had any problem with anyone there but her," Henry says.

Helen Wheatley is the HFT representative who began working with Rogers in mid-January after the original HFT rep went out on medical leave. She says complaints started to surface shortly after Zeph Capo, HFT's government liaison, met with the school's teachers about political issues and Rogers teachers brought up White. Wheatley says she took this to the monthly meetings she has with regional superintendent Thornhill and told her that "something is coming down the pike and there are problems over there."

Thornhill insists that no allegations were brought to her attention at any time in or out of the HFT meetings. The only thing that ever came up, she says, was that HFT planned to do a survey.

Wheatley says the whole reason for the survey was to determine whether this was just a case of a few disgruntled teachers or a more widespread problem.

Thornhill tried to dismiss the results of the HFT survey, saying it was just a case of the union attacking the principal, Wheatley says. For her part, Wheatley says they tried to be as objective as possible and opened up the survey to everyone, not just union members.

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