Weller: I was never told what I did wrong

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY VICKI TERWILLIGER STAFF WRITER

TOWER CITY — Tracey Weller said she never re­ceived in­for­ma­tion on what rule she broke prior to her sus­pen­sion as the Williams Val­ley High School prin­ci­pal.

Weller and Su­per­in­ten­dent Diane Nieder­riter tes­ti­fied Tues­day at Weller’s due process hear­ing, which was con­tin­ued fol­low­ing nearly three hours of tes­ti­mony be­fore the Williams Val­ley school board.

“I’ve never been told,” Weller said af­ter ques­tion­ing from her at­tor­ney, Michael M. Mon­sour with the firm of Ko­zloff Stoudt, Wy­omiss­ing. Weller re­quested the hear­ing be pub­lic.

Also present were more than a dozen peo­ple, in­clud­ing Angie Bixler, who pre­sented an 86-sig­na­ture pe­ti­tion to re­in­state Weller. The doc­u­ment was sub­mit­ted to board Pres­i­dent Daniel Stroup dur­ing one of the brief hear­ing re­cesses. Sev­eral cit­i­zens wore T-shirts which read, “Team Weller,” and a few in the au­di­ence of­fered Weller hugs be­fore the hear­ing be­gan.

Her sus­pen­sion came about af­ter Weller ques­tioned stu­dents in re­gard to a threat­en­ing Fe­bru­ary In­sta­gram post. She was no­ti­fied about the post and, while two stu­dents with pos­si­ble in­for­ma­tion on the post­ing were in her of­fice and the of­fice of As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal Chris­tine Sisko, the sus­pect walked in, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony. The two stu­dents were later threat­ened out­side school prop­erty by the sus­pect’s brother.

Weller was charged with

in­com­pe­tency, will­ful ne­glect and fail­ure to com­ply with school laws of the com­mon­wealth, in­clud­ing of­fi­cial direct and es­tab­lished pol­icy of the board of di­rec­tors and vi­o­la­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia pro­fes­sional stan­dards for a pro­fes­sional em­ployee. She was ini­tially sus­pended with pay and later with­out pay on an 8-1 board vote, ef­fec­tive March 2.

Much of Weller’s tes­ti­mony fo­cused on her teach­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence over the last 20 years, her pos­i­tive work eval­u­a­tions and her ac­tions Feb. 19 to 23.

Mon­sour asked if Weller was the one who usu­ally spoke with Penn­syl­va­nia State Po­lice. She said she would gen­er­ally speak with po­lice in re­gard to drug pos­ses­sion, fights, stu­dent be­hav­ior and ha­rass­ment com­plaints. She said around the time a stu­dent’s par­ents are called, the su­per­in­ten­dent and the guid­ance depart­ment are also no­ti­fied of the sit­u­a­tion. Weller said it was her job to “get it right” and get in­for­ma­tion from stu­dents.

Mon­sour asked if Nieder­riter ever asked Weller to pro­vide her more in­for­ma­tion or to be in­volved in any stu­dent in­ter­ro­ga­tions un­re­lated to the In­sta­gram post. Weller said, “No.”

Weller spoke of an “avalanche” of re­sponses dur­ing the days fol­low­ing a threat­en­ing Feb. 18 post­ing on Snapchat, a sep­a­rate In­sta­gram post­ing and then the in-school in­ter­ro­ga­tion of stu­dents that be­gan Feb. 20. The In­sta­gram mes­sage was posted Feb. 11, but the district didn’t find out about it un­til Feb. 20. There was a pic­ture of a young man in a clown mask hold­ing what ap­peared to be a toy gun. The cap­tion of the In­sta­gram post­ing was “I hate every­one at WV. I wish they would all just dis­ap­pear,” prior tes­ti­mony re­vealed. Other post­ings in­cluded a photo of the Williams Val­ley school sign and pro­fan­ity.

Weller said at 8:10 a.m. Feb. 20, two girls came to school vis­i­bly shaken. They were called to the of­fice, and Weller and Sisko asked them if they knew who did the In­sta­gram post­ing but were not pro­vided any in­for­ma­tion. Trooper Rob Bly­stone and Trooper Jeffrey Good­man were there as well and asked Weller to cross-ref­er­ence the fol­low­ers of the In­sta­gram ac­count, many of whom were cur­rent district stu­dents. Trooper Ni­cholas Zulick later in­ter­viewed stu­dents who may have had in­for­ma­tion on the Snapchat con­ver­sa­tion the night of Feb. 20, Weller said.

On Feb. 21, Weller said she called two girls into the of­fice af­ter they were over­heard talk­ing about the sit­u­a­tion in the high school cafe­te­ria. One girl told the other who had made the post but told her not to tell. The one girl ad­mit­ted this to Weller then both girls even­tu­ally said who made the In­sta­gram post­ing.

The sus­pected boy came to the of­fice while Bly­stone was there, Weller said. “He did con­fess,” Weller said. When Mon­sour asked her if the boy ex­pressed any anger to­ward the two girls, she said he did not.

Weller said the boy said he was scared. “He said, ‘I just want the bul­ly­ing to stop,’ ” Weller said. She asked him if he wanted to hurt him­self. “He said, no. He thought it would be funny,” she tes­ti­fied.

Weller said she did try to ex­plain to Nieder­riter “how we got to this point.”

“Dr. Nieder­riter cut me off and didn’t let me fin­ish,” Weller said.

Mon­sour asked her about the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween her and Nieder­riter and about the su­per­in­ten­dent’s man­age­ment style.

“Dr. Nieder­riter’s man­age­ment style is goal-ori­ented. See the hill, take the hill. Get it done. Deal with it ef­fi­ciently. Give me the de­tails when I ask. Other­wise, we’ll move for­ward with nor­mal busi­ness,” Weller said.

Weller said Nieder­riter had for­warded in­for­ma­tion from Penn Link about a job post­ing on Jan. 10 to district ad­min­is­tra­tors. Nieder­riter had also sent job post­ing in­for­ma­tion to Weller and Sisko in Au­gust 2017, Weller tes­ti­fied.

“Whether it’s in­tended or not ... it sends the feel­ing that your su­per­vi­sor thinks you should look else­where and move along,” Weller said.

Mon­sour said in Nieder­riter’s prior tes­ti­mony, she ex­pressed a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from Weller. He again asked if Nieder­riter had ever re­quested ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion from Weller in her han­dling of other stu­dent/teacher si­t­u­a­tions at the school.

Ac­cord­ing to Weller, the op­po­site was the case.

In an email from Sept. 25, 2017, be­tween Weller and the su­per­in­ten­dent, Weller had ex­plained a sit­u­a­tion be­tween a stu­dent and teacher, which left the stu­dent feel­ing marginal­ized, and the response that fol­lowed from a par­ent. Weller had drafted a let­ter that was at­tached to the email of­fer­ing fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to her tes­ti­mony. Weller said Nieder­riter told her to delete the let­ter. She read Nei­der­riter’s response to her, which sug­gested Weller’s “abil­ity to be clear and con­cise is ex­haust­ing.”

On Feb. 23, Weller was no­ti­fied of her sus­pen­sion. She tes­ti­fied she was called into the board room for a meet­ing at 3:30 p.m. with Nieder­riter; Jo­lene Smith, ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant to the su­per­in­ten­dent; and Quinn, who was on speaker phone. Weller said Nieder­riter told her she cre­ated a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion for two stu­dents and asked for her res­ig­na­tion three times. Quinn said there was a “chain of com­mand” prob­lem and sug­gested that Weller should have gone to Nieder­riter’s of­fice to dis­cuss the stu­dent sit­u­a­tion, since their of­fices are nearby.

“She said my res­ig­na­tion would have to be to­day, and I said, ‘No, thank you,’ ” Weller said.

At that point, Weller tes­ti­fied, Nieder­riter said she had no other choice but to sus­pend her and asked if she had any ques­tions.

The only one she had was about health in­sur­ance for her chil­dren, which she was told would re­main in­tact. Weller walked to her of­fice, col­lected her be­long­ings and turned in her badge and keys, she tes­ti­fied.

Much of Mon­sour’s ques­tions to Nieder­riter were about the district’s ap­peal for Weller’s work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion. The school district with­drew its ap­peal May 31 on the ad­vice of district so­lic­i­tor Ni­cholas A. Quinn, Pottsville, ac­cord­ing to Nieder­riter. Quinn over­saw the hear­ing and re­minded Mon­sour that it was not an un­em­ploy­ment hear­ing. He asked that the un­em­ploy­ment is­sue be kept sep­a­rate.

Ben­jamin L. Pratt with the law firm of Ober­mayer Reb­mann Maxwell & Hip­pel LLP, Harrisburg, rep­re­sented the district ad­min­is­tra­tion. Due to the late hour, Pratt did not get to cross-ex­am­ine of Weller on Tues­day.

The due process hear­ing be­gan May 2 and was con­tin­ued to May 22 and June 12. No date has been set yet for the fourth day. Upon the hear­ing’s com­ple­tion, the school board will de­lib­er­ate and de­ter­mine if Weller re­mains em­ployed.

DIANe NIeDeR­RITeR Su­per­in­ten­dent

TRACey welleR Sus­pended

prin­ci­pal

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