Education

Ex-principal's suit dismissed in part

A Fayette judge has dismissed parts of a former Lexington elementary principal's lawsuit that claims she was forced to resign because of race discrimination.

Former Booker T. Washington principal Peggy Petrilli's legal claims against Carmen Coleman, director of elementary schools, and Brenda Allen, a school board attorney, were dismissed Tuesday.

Circuit Judge James Ishmael said that Petrilli has presented no evidence that Coleman or Allen discriminated against Petrilli or forced her to resign.

Ishmael did not rule on Petrilli's claims against the Fayette County Board of Education and Superintendent Stu Silberman. But he cast doubt on whether she could succeed in her lawsuit.

"I think it is real questionable that any adverse employment action was taken by any of the defendants," Ishmael said.

Attorney Dale Golden, who represents Petrilli, has said that parents at the predominantly African-American school were unhappy with her from the start because they did not have input on her selection and wanted a black principal.

Petrilli is white. She was principal at Booker T. from March 2005 to August 2007.

Parents had pledged to speak out to the media and picket the school. Golden claims that Silberman bowed to political expediency and forced Petrilli to resign even though he did not believe the allegations against her.

"It was clear to Peggy that she had no future" working for Silberman, Golden said. "It was pure politics."

The school board claims that parents were angry with Petrilli because she had alienated them with an abrasive management style and disregard for protocol.

"Peggy just really had some pretty serious relationship problems with other people," Silberman testified in a deposition.

Silberman said that he was constantly addressing problems created by Petrilli. He testified that she jeopardized district funding for a reading initiative by allowing students to take a version of a test in advance; illegally demoted janitors, forcing the district to later re-promote them with back pay; presided over extraordinarily high employee turnover; and failed to tell parents that a pre-school program their children were participating in was not free.

Petrilli so alienated teachers and parents, the school board says, that parents brought a long list of complaints to Silberman on Aug. 22, 2007.

Days later, Petrilli rejected an offer to return as principal to her previous school, Northern Elementary, and resigned, the board says.

The board has presented e-mail messages showing that Petrilli's former attorney negotiated her departure.

But Golden says that one e-mail shows that Petrilli agreed to never apply for a Fayette schools job again. He calls that proof that the district wanted her gone.

Golden claims that the district violated Petrilli's due process rights as an educator. He says Silberman should have investigated the complaints before attempting to initiate discipline.

Golden says the catalyst for the parent uprising was Petrilli's reporting to district officials that a special-needs child was allegedly living out the school's attendance zone.

Petrilli contends that parents Buddy and Alva Clark retaliated by rallying black parents and eventually driving her out. Golden says Petrilli had a legal obligation to make the report.

But school board attorney John McNeill has said that the child was not living out of area because he was previously enrolled at one of two schools merged to create Booker T. McNeill says Petrilli could have simply asked the Clarks where they were living.

He said Petrilli filed the report because she did not want the disabled child to hurt the school's test-score average.

"The conduct by Ms. Petrilli, rather than being legal, or required by statute, was illegal and immoral," McNeill wrote in a pleading.

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