Former Lawton Elementary School principal sues AAPS for ‘reverse discrimination’

Wednesday, August 7, 2019 - 9:24pm

Courtesy of Lawton Elementary

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Shannon Blick, former principal of Ann Arbor Public School District's Lawton Elementary School, is alleging the district ousted her in an act of reverse discrimination,according to her lawsuit against the school.

On May 1, Dawn Linden, Ann Arbor Public Schools executive director of Elementary Education, sent out a letter to the parents of students at Lawton Elementary School, reporting that Blick, who was principal at the time, was on a temporary leave of absence. With no formal reason provided or a specified time length, Dottie Davis, former Huron High School athletic director and assistant principal, assumed the role as “guest principal.”

Two months later, Blick, with aid from Ann Arbor attorney William Tishkoff, filed a $5 million lawsuit against Ann Arbor Public Schools, Superintendent Jeanice Swift, among other administrators. In addition to financial compensation, Blick is asking to be reinstated as principal of Lawton Elementary.

Blick claims the AAPS board and their key administrators “subject white administrators to hostility and harassment in the workplace based on their race; accelerate the promotion and advancement of African American and minority administrators at the expense and to the detriment of white administrators and refuse to ‘reasonably and properly investigate’ and take remedial action for, ‘reverse discrimination’ workplace complaints,” per her lawsuit.

Tishkoff declined to interview on record, but pointed The Daily to online reports for further information.

In her complaint, Blick affirms she “maintained an exemplary employment record,” receiving a “highly effective” score on her teacher evaluations over the course of her six years at Lawton. Yet, Blick claims she was continually “treated disparately, harassed, berated, lied to, humiliated, intimidated, threatened and ultimately suspended without notice or cause and constructively terminated on April 26, 2019, because of her Caucasian race.”

Blick identifies the harassment’s origins as April 17, 2019, when Michael Madison, principal of Dicken Elementary School, suggested to Blick at a dinner party that she “need(s) to go on a medical leave until the end of the school year and come back in August and hide out as an Assistant Principal at a middle school until the dust settles.” Madison allegedly told her this because Shonta Langford, executive director of human resources and employee relations for AAPS, was investigating her “over Willie Johnson (Custodian at Lawton) and they have something on (her).”

According to the lawsuit, the AAPS human resources department published a report stating Johnson had stolen $25,000 over four years by falsifying time sheets and determined that Blick had let it occur. Following this report, Blick was told by Madison on April 26 the department would be placing her on administrative leave and that she was not able to contact any parents or students and would not be able to enter the district’s premises. Four days later, Madison texted her suggesting she place her formal resignation. 

In June, The Ann Arbor News filed a public records request with the school district for public records of the theft, but was denied due to an ongoing criminal investigation that could be hindered by the distribution of the records. However, it wasn’t until Wednesday, July 24, that a police report related to the theft was filed.  

Andrew Cluley, AAPS director of communications, wrote in a statement to The Daily the district has not been served with a copy of the complaint and could not comment on pending litigation of personnel matters.

"The Ann Arbor Public Schools has no been served with a copy of the complaint," Culey wrote. "The AAPS does not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters."

During a meeting with Linden following her leave, Blick said she was presented with a list of 14 parents who planned to speak on her behalf at the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Board Meeting scheduled for May 8. Linden then suggested Blick tell the parents not to attend or else a “reporter from MLive that is regularly in attendance would FOIA Ms. Blick’s personnel file, which would contain outrageous, humiliating, inhumane and patently false accusations regarding Ms. Blick’s conduct, purportedly on and off work premises, and Ms. Blick would be destroyed by the ensuing article and online publication by the MLive reporter.”

Throughout this meeting, Blick claims she was under “severe emotional distress,” as she was “hyperventilating, crying and in emotional turmoil.”

Naomi Zikmund-Fisher, former principal of the Ann Arbor Open School, wrote in a Facebook group that she does not deny the possibility that Blick could’ve been mistreated. However, she is hesitant to label it as discrimination.

“I think its important to draw a distinction between whether people are treated fairly and whether the unfairness is because of race,” Zikmund-Fisher wrote. “Just my two cents as a former AAPS admin — there is definite unfairness, but it is spread around pretty evenly in terms of skin color. White people are not the victims here.”

University of Michigan alum Hoai An Pham, also believes the claim of reverse racism is an act of white supremacy and shows a complete misunderstanding of what racism is.

“As many Black activists and scholars have outlined, racism implies power,” Pham said. “In the white supremacist society that we live in, white people benefit from and uphold their own privileges from the oppression of non-white people. Similarly, non-Black people of color benefit from and uphold our own privileges from the oppression of Black people. We cannot separate racism from the power dynamics that exist, because we have a society that was built from combining those two things, among others. This means that it’s impossible for reverse racism to exist, because the power structure only goes one way: down.”

Similarly, LSA junior Thomas Vance described the difference between discrimination and racism, explaining “racism needs power to operate, which comes from exclusionary decisions at an executive level and insituations of power.”

“Reverse racism would require minorities to systematically discriminate on the basis of race,” Vance said. “Whether or not AAPS is guilty of racial discrimination does not make this an act of institutional racism. One instance of racial bias does not create an unequal, two-tiered system between Blacks and whites. If the district fires Blick because of her race, that does not solidify a racial hierarchy in AAPS, Ann Arbor, the State of Michigan, or the United States.”

Before Blick’s leave, Dawn Linden, executive director of elementary education for AAPS, advised Blick that vice principal of Lawton, Dante Watson, who is African American, was promoted to principal of Haisley Elementary. Taniea Giles, an African American woman, would then assume the role of vice principal.

The complaint also suggests Giles bypassed typical hiring protocol that would traditionally involve multiple rounds of interviews with the parents, teachers and principals of Lawton. However, because Giles reported racism at her previous school, Ann Arbor's King Elementary School, Linden was “afraid they might lose a minority administrator,” and therefore placed her in the vice principal role.

Additionally, the complaint claims Giles “coveted Ms. Blick’s position as Principal of Lawton,” contributing to the decision for Blick’s termination.

Lawton parents, like Jessica Gilbert, say they have been left in the dark about the current situation. As the situation continues to unfold, she said there has been a feeling of unease among students and parents.

“It’s been a difficult situation that’s been going on for a few months,” Gilbert said. “We received one email when Mrs. Blick was put out on leave, the only email we received in contact with the district. And then we received one email last week and that has been the only contact we had.”