Michigan Teacher Claims Negative Online Reviews Cost Her Job

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A tenured Michigan high school teacher is suing after she says she was removed from the classroom over negative online reviews.

Dianne Down, a math teacher employed by Ann Arbor Public Schools for the last 14 years, was put on paid leave in December. She had no idea why until a parent clued her in to the negative reviews allegedly posted by parents online.

Down was accused of arranging a class seating chart according to race, calling students names and making disparaging remarks about pupils.

She was formally reprimanded for her behavior towards students, according to district documents. In October 2004, then-Principal Arthur Williams reprimanded her for teasing a student, calling him an “animal” and animal names like “chipmunk,” MLive reported. She allegedly admitted to saying “shut up, chipmunk” to the student.

In fall 2008, at least nine students requested to leave her class and at least 22 complaints were filed about her performance, according to teacher evaluations.

In a rebuttal, Down claimed she didn’t have the support she needed from administrators but would work to improve her performance.

“I love my students. I love teaching,” she wrote in the rebuttal. “I am looking forward to many more great years. There will always be bumps in the road but how you improve on those times are what make you stronger, better and more successful. All I ask for is the opportunity to continue to improve.”

In Spring 2010, she was advised not to seat students by race, according to MLive. In Winter 2012, she was advised to continue improving her behavior because students continued to transfer out of her class.

In Spring 2013, she was evaluated as “effective,” then that winter she was removed from the classroom.

Down alleges that she was flung into an intrusive tenure charge process that pressures teachers to resign. In the last 10 years, only two teachers were fired by AAPS, but many more resigned, choosing to avoid the tenure hearing process.

AAPS ordered Down to undergo a medical exam by a psychologist selected by the district to determine if she’s fit to teach, a request that is permitted by her union contract.

Down says the request is a violation of her 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search. In January she filed suit in the U.S. Eastern District Court in Detroit in January against the AAPS. She concealed her identity, calling herself Jane Doe, until June.

“Several factors influenced my decision: I learned that the federal court was unlikely to keep my name sealed in the long run,” she told the Anne Arbor News, “it became clear that many of my colleagues and students were aware that I was Jane Doe, and once the litigation began then the School District continued to protect the identity of the parents making allegations against me.”

“I believe it’s now time for the identity of all parties involved to be revealed,” she said. “I have the right to know that under the collective bargaining agreement, and the community has the right to know the entire story and the identity of the parents behind it.”

Although the district said it planned to investigate Down’s classroom behavior, a report has never been revealed.

Sources: MLive (2)

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Leslie Science & Nature Center