Editor's note: This article has been revised from an earlier version which incorrectly described Ogden International School as a charter school.
A principal of a Chicago international school – seemingly popular with many students’ parents and others in the community - has filed suit against the city’s board of education, claiming the board is trying to remove him on unsubstantiated charges.
According to the lawsuit, filed Nov. 14 in Cook County Circuit Court, Dr. Michael Beyer, principal of Ogden International School since 2015, has an exemplary record – leading Ogden’s merger with the underutilized Jenner Academy of the Arts to relieve overcrowding, working with parents to ensure they feel heard, and tripling the number of teachers of color on staff. In August, “in recognition of Beyer’s good work,” the local school council voted to extend his contract through the 2022 school year, the suit says.
Last June, the suit says, the Inspector General of the Chicago Board of Education issued a summary report finding that staff at Ogden’s elementary school had falsified attendance records of some students by recording them as having transferred. On Nov. 1, Chicago Public Schools sent Beyer a letter notifying him he was being removed from his post and that CPS was considering terminating his employment.
The letter said the actions were in response to Beyer’s violations of attendance recordkeeping policies, but no specific instances are mentioned, the lawsuit says, nor is the Inspector General’s report specifically referenced. Beyer was also told CPS had scheduled a pre-suspension hearing that could result in his being suspended without pay until his pre-termination hearing.
Upon learning of Beyer’s removal, the local school council sent a letter to CPS formally requesting his reinstatement. The council threw its support squarely behind Beyer, unanimously approving a resolution praising Beyer and calling into question the Inspector General’s findings.
Seven members of the council have joined Beyer in his lawsuit against CPS, and more than 900 community members have signed a Change.org petition asking for his reinstatement.
Among the lawsuit’s chief complaints is the lack of specifics CPS has provided. Though Beyer has requested a copy of the rules governing the pre-suspension hearing and the evidence that will be presented against him, he has received neither. While he did receive a copy of the Inspector General’s report, it is so heavily redacted that it is difficult to analyze; nearly half of the report’s findings are completely redacted, as are the names and enrollment dates of all the students the report claims were improperly recorded as transferring.
“The Inspector General’s report gives no indication that he actually interviewed any of the students or parents alleged to have been involved in the purportedly falsified transfers,” the complaint claims. “Had he interviewed any members of the Ogden community, the Inspector General would have learned that, due to its highly international student body … Ogden has an unusually high number of students that transfer to foreign school districts or are homeschooled for a portion of the school year before returning to Ogden.”
The lawsuit claims that this is what actually happened in the cases of the allegedly falsified records. Even if that was not the case, the complaint argues, a minor recordkeeping infraction is not grounds to remove an otherwise successful principal.
The plaintiffs allege Beyer’s removal is actually tied to a Facebook post he made in 2015 asking if any parents or members of the community would be available to come in on a weekend and clean up Ogden’s classrooms and bathrooms. He was reprimanded for the post and issued a warning resolution that instructed him to avoid insubordination or taking a public stance that defies CPS. In the third count of the three-count lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim removing Beyer from his post is retaliation for the Facebook post and violates the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment finding that the pre-suspension hearing does not provide due process and violates state law requiring the defendants to post the rules it will follow. They also seek a temporary restraining order that will allow Beyer to remain in his post until the matter is decided, and they want the warning resolution expunged from Beyer’s record.
In addition to the board of education, the lawsuit names CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Director of Employment Engagement Mary Ernesti as defendants.
Beyer and the council members are represented by William J. Quinlan and Eric T. Schmitt of The Quinlan Law Firm LLC of Chicago.