Detroit, Education — May 13, 2014 at 8:51 am

EAA high school principal of fired teacher: “I’m under a strict gag order, she should never have been fired”


NOTE: this story has been updated HERE.

When Tiffani Eaton stopped a violent classroom fight between two strapping high school boys by whacking one of them with a broom, she was fired by the Education Achievement Authority that runs Pershing High School in Detroit. EAA administrators defended her firing saying that she violated state corporal punishment laws; that it amounted to “child abuse”. Fox Detroit published an exclusive interview with Eaton yesterday. In it, she describes the situation she found herself in and why what she did was the right thing to do and “virtuous”.

In the video it doesn’t show all of the pipes sticking out of the ground. There are so many hazards in that room and when they fight, they don’t see any of the things around them. I acted in the moment feeling that that student was going to be seriously hurt or maybe even killed. […]

Both [of the nearby] teachers were in their rooms and they were blocking upwards of 20 students from making a situation that involved 35 students, preventing that from becoming a situation that involved 50 or 60 students. So, everybody was where they should have been.

Except for security, of course.

Here’s the video of their interview:

Eaton also told Fox Detroit about the “lack of support for teachers” within the EAA, something that has been well-documented in my many interviews with current and former EAA teachers and administrators.

Perhaps the most important part of Fox Detroit’s reporting, however, is a statement released by Pershing Principal Gregory King. King has been villified in this situation for firing Eaton. This turns out to be completely unwarranted villification. King released a letter to the “Michigan Education Community” stating that he believes that Eaton should not have been fired and that EAA administrators have essentially thrown him under the bus to avoid being seen as having an inappropriate response to the situation.

Here is his important letter (emphasis mine):

To the Michigan Education Community:

The termination of a teacher at my school following her efforts to break up a fight has led to a great deal of media attention. As someone with personal knowledge of the situation, I feel I have a duty to clarify a few important facts that have been distorted in the public record. First, Ms. Eaton should never have been fired. Period. I am asking EAA administration to reverse path. Our teachers at Pershing high and at all other schools are called upon to do the impossible every day: counselor, security guard, teacher, and more. They are asked to do so without adequate resources to guarantee even basic bodily safety. Media reports have falsely alleged that I recommended Ms. Eaton’s termination. That is not true. EAA central administration has had an opportunity to report the truth and correct the misinformation. They have not done so.

The Michigan citizens and parents of students in the EAA District deserve honesty and transparency from the Authority. They are not getting it. Taxpayers are confronted with the difficult task of evaluating some of the most drastic school reform this state has ever seen. Yet the EAA Chancellor has put a strict gag order on all the District’s principals that allows false information to go uncorrected. In cases like this, the policy of secrecy at the EAA erodes public confidence and at the same time damages the reputations of teachers and administrators alike. The public can no longer afford this wall of silence.

That is why I am writing to correct the record. It is also why I have talked to a DHS Investigator who visited Pershing last Friday and I will continue to work with state authorities to explain that I saw no evidence of corporal punishment. Further I will continue to work within the EAA and with other state agencies to address important issues of public concern: why resources and grants that could help create safer schools are not being allocated to effectively address the problem; why teachers that try to do their best with so little are subject to illegal termination; or why the EAA is unable to provide meaningful security support.

I intend to tell them:

  • I believe that the Pershing High teacher was illegally fired. Despite media reports that I recommended the termination, I did no such thing.
  • She appeared by video to be physically intervening (risking injury to herself) to protect the safety of students, as school policies require of her. The basic investigation procedures usually followed were not undertaken before Ms. Eaton was fired.
  • Public safety has always been a primary concern for me, my staff and my teachers. I have communicated my safety concerns to central administration on many occasions prior to April 30 of this year. In particular, I have demanded regular safety committee meetings, I have asked to address inadequate security presence, I have requested calibration of walkie-talkies so that administration and security are always within reach of our teachers.
  • Unfortunately, Ms. Eaton, the teachers, and the administrators at Pershing High have become skilled at making do without security tools. It has been a long time since the right security tools have been available, such as walkie-talkies for all security personnel and working video cameras.

“As I have for more than two decades, I will continue to work hard to help create a better more productive educational environment, despite all challenges. The Pershing High community, students, parents, and alumni deserve no less.

Gregory King, Ed. D.
Pershing High School Principal”

To the extent that I have mischaracterized Principal King in any of my writing, I offer my apology. It is abundantly clear that, like so many EAA teachers and other administrators, he has been left to face the harsh court of public opinion with absolutely no support from the central administration who seem interested only in protecting their own reputations despite showing atrocious and inappropriate judgement and decision-making time after time after time. While Chancellor Covington and his staff fly around the country on the tax-payers’ tab bragging about the EAA, their teachers and school administrators are left to fend for themselves and deal with the abysmal, almost impossible working conditions that are failing Detroit students. THEY are the ones who should be held accountable in this situation, not the teacher who did what anyone right-thinking person would have done under the same circumstances.

It blows my mind that Republicans — including Republican Governor Rick Snyder — continue to defend this failed experiment and to laud John Covington and his staff for their work when it is so obvious that they are out of their league and have no business running ANY school, much less our most challenged districts in Michigan. The idea of expanding this failed model shouldn’t even be on the table. Yet they are pushing and promoting it with everything they have so that they and Gov. Snyder can be seen as “doing something” about poorly-performing schools in an election year.

Nobody — NOBODY! — believes we shouldn’t be doing “something” to solve the intractable problems in our public schools in Michigan, particularly in Detroit. However, any thoughtful look at the EAA screams “Not THIS thing!”. Republicans can’t pull hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from our public schools and then use the EAA as evidence that they care about public education in Michigan. The facts show that for the deceptive and disingenuous lie that it is.

One more thing: these revelations bolster and vindicate all of the teachers who have come forward on Eclectablog to tell their horror stories about the EAA. All of the accounts of teachers not being supported and being asked to perform an impossible job under impossible circumstances are being proven completely accurate, despite claims that they are just disgruntled employees with an axe to grind. I continue to hear from current and former EAA teachers and administrators – including from the central administrative office – on a weekly basis who say the stories are true, that they need to be told, and thanking me for helping them to be told.

As Jack Lessenberry at Michigan Radio puts it, “It is clear that expanding the EAA now would be a colossal mistake. The EAA is a total failure in terms of administration, honesty, transparency and staying within a budget. Its chancellor, John Covington, probably needs to be fired immediately…Covington and other EAA officials seem to think they are accountable to nobody.”

Please contact your state Senator and let them know that you are against expanding this failed experiment. It’s time to quit wasting valuable time and resources on the EAA and to move forward with an “educational surge” that will bolster our public schools and solve these long-term problems once and for all.