Video by Brilyn Thornton
Rally for Riley
On Monday, Feb. 29, Decatur students, teachers, alumni and citizens gathered across the street from Decatur High School to rally in support of media specialist Susan Riley, following her termination last Friday.
Riley was a media assistant at Decatur for 19 years. In 2011, she was named a Decatur Hometown Hero for her dedication to students.
While no public official reason has been released by City Schools of Decatur (CSD) administration, several of Riley’s friends and family have alleged that it resulted from complaints made by other faculty members. According to her, she was not given a reason at the time of her termination.
Following her termination, Riley received hundreds of responses. A GoFundMe account created for her legal expenses raised $3,415, and several community members spoke out on her Facebook page, calling the termination an “injustice” and “the beginning of the end for Decatur.”
Two of those people, alumni Sarah Stubbs and Sara Norman, organized a rally this morning to support Riley.
“It’s not a protest, and it’s not supposed to be negative,” Stubbs said. “We wanted to show how much we care about her and how positively she impacted our community.”
The rally started at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning, making it possible for students and teachers to join. Around 200 people braved the nearly freezing temperatures and stood on the lawn of Guitar Decatur and Bruce A. Hagen, P.C..
Supporters held signs reading quotes like “Save Susan” and “We gonna make it, baby.” A large poster that read “Rally for Riley” was available for anyone to sign, and some people sported stickers and shirts with the same phrase.
In addition, a sound system was set up to allow the attendees to come up and give testament to the love Riley showed to those around her. One who expressed gratitude toward Riley was Decatur High student body president, Denzel Taylor. After comparing her nurturing attitude to her being “the womb of the school,” he explained how she gave him confidence, too.
“She has been the strongest shoulder to lean on,” Taylor said. “Mrs. Riley has that special way of just looking you straight in the eye and making you feel like one in ten million. I never really thought I was special as a person, but she changed my mind.”
New Superintendent Dr. David Dude arrived at the rally with no comment. Stubbs addressed him, mentioning that some people are “boxing in” Dude by discussing negative information they have found on the internet about his past.
“I want to stand here today and say to you, Dr. Dude, [that] I believe that you can make the right choice here,” Stubbs said. “I believe you can make the right decision. Ms. Riley had faith in me, even in my weakest moments, and for that, I have faith in you here to make the right choice.”
38 teachers, all clad in black, lined the sidewalk in front of the school to show support for their coworker. Even current students, including juniors Jordan Baxter, Alexander Hollins and Jospehine Brodie, told stories of how Riley helped them in times of stress, anxiety and even confusion. Hollins said Riley was “the best thing to happen to Decatur in a long, long, time.”
“Mrs. Riley was a counselor, a mother, and a friend to everyone,” Hollins said. “Everyone knows how genuinely kind and amazing she was.”
Former principal Lauri McKain, who also attended the rally, expressed her faith as well.
“I am 100% confident that she will be back in that building because this is a mistake — a huge one,” McKain said.
The school system’s central offices may be considering that exact point. On Sunday, the termination was rescinded and is currently under investigation by the superintendent. Riley is now on paid leave. Stubb’s father, local attorney Tom Stubbs, called for an independent investigator to ensure justice.
“We need someone who is not looking for a relationship with the school system and the school board the next day,” Stubbs’ father said.
In response, Dude released a public statement on Facebook saying he “will be working with Mrs. Riley and her attorney to select a reviewer who [they] both agree can conduct the review with independence.”
Dude also said he appreciated the rally, calling it a representation of “the Decatur [he] expected” when he moved here, as well as “the Decatur that folks like Susan Riley have built.”
UPDATE AS OF 3/3/2016, 11:29 AM: According to a press release published by Riley’s attorney, David Hughes, Mrs. Riley’s request for the reason for her termination was finally granted. Two days ago, Superintendent Dude informed Riley that her termination was based on several allegations against her.
Firstly, she was accused of misappropriating school property by “taking home an iPad that had been purchased for her use and was checked out to her.” Additionally, she allegedly “failed to follow a new job plan given to her,” “inappropriately complained to the administration about mistreatment of her” by the other media specialists and lastly, that she “failed to keep confidential a Human Resources investigation” that looked into these complaints.
Riley maintains that she didn’t act wrongly. Dude, who rescinded her termination and placed her on paid leave last Sunday, acknowledges that the allegations may be false.
The complaints Riley, 61, filed were regarding age-related harassment by the school’s other media specialists. According to the press release, Riley was often scrutinized in front of students, and one of the media specialists repeatedly stated and implied that Riley should retire. After Riley complained, her lawyer said, the harassment “continued and grew worse.”
Additionally, Riley’s job plan supposedly prevented her from doing work she had done for years – helping other faculty members with technology problems. Under the old administration, before Dude came to CSD, Riley was given what was essentially a promotion.
The press release (see bottom of story) said the job plan, which was approved under the old administration, had “increased responsibilities and greater pay.” The current administration rejected it after she made her complaints. When Riley inquired about the promotion, she was told the paperwork for it didn’t exist. By trying to prove its existence, she supposedly violated the alleged Human Rights investigation into her complaints.
Riley’s attorney claims that “the reason given [for her termination] […] is not credible. Instead, it is a mere pretext to cover up the harassment and discrimination inflicted upon her.” Finally, it added that Mrs. Riley is “hopeful” that the administration will act in her favor.
Dude believes that the situation “has been stressful for many folks,” but believes there’s a positive side.
“The optimist in me can’t help but recognize the silver lining, however, that people came together to vocally support someone they care about,” he said. “I appreciated seeing students at the rally who were genuine, authentic, and articulate. The fact that the rally was organized by former students, as well, is a testament to the community.”
Regarding the third party investigation into the matter, Dude said he is “committed to ensuring this is an independent, impartial review.”
“I will do my best to ensure it is as transparent as possible, within the confines of what can be shared in any legal personnel situation,” Dude said. “I will be patiently awaiting the results of the review and hope others can do so as well.”
Photos by Ellie Ritter
Riley’s official Press Release
Update as of Tuesday, March 15th by Duo-Wei Yang
Last Tuesday, seven supporters for Decatur media specialist Susan Riley attended the monthly City Schools of Decatur (CSD) meeting to express their opinions on her termination at the end of February.
The first speaker, Mary Rigger, believes that Superintendent David Dude deliberately and thoughtfully approached this situation, but likely did not have all nor the correct information when making his decision. She urged Dude to allow Riley to return to the school.
“I implore you to fully reinstate Susan Riley. This is not to be taken as a sign of weakness,” she said. “Indeed, you still have the power.”
Sarah Norman, DHS alumni and organizer of the rally two weeks ago believed that Riley’s termination was a ridiculous move by the school board.
“Although I have no ties with the school system any longer, I am concerned about the direction CSD is going in,” she said. “I realize that [Dr. Dude] did not make this decision alone, but I implore you all to recognize your position here. To serve all the people of this community and realize that there are always two sides to the issue.”
Local attorney Tom Stubbs and friend of Riley began his speech by praising the line of 38 faculty member wearing black and standing in solidarity in the front of the school to show their support the morning of the rally.
“I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
He entreated the school board to allow Riley come back to her job at Decatur.
“There is one innocent victim here and it is Susan Riley,” he said. “She is lying face up on a guillotine waiting for us to decide what is going to happen. It’s intolerable and unjustified. We should also never get so stuck in the bureaucratic safety that we forget that we are a family.“
Decatur parent Alvin McNeely took a more blunt approach in his rhetoric towards the school board.
“Why do you have to have a third-party review [Riley’s job termination]? You know what you’re doing, or you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, why are you sitting up there?”
McNeely however, also acknowledged that the members of the school board held “a thankless job.”
The school board maintained their stance on not disclosing details of Riley’s termination to the public.
“The matter involving Ms. Riley is a confidential personnel matter,” CSD Board member Annie Caiola said. “We understand that this is a subject that is emotionally charged.”
Update as of Wednesday, April 13th by Ellie Ritter and Maddie Himalayan
This afternoon, Superintendent David Dude announced that, after review, Susan Riley is to be reinstated in the DHS library as media clerk. Riley was terminated on February 29.
According to Decaturish, CSD hired Jonathan Poole with Strickland Brockington Lewis to look into the handling of Riley’s case. He was being paid $235 per hour for his services. The review began early last month.
No information has been released regarding other future changes to be made, including whether there will be consequences for whichever party provided the incorrect information.
Dr. Dude’s public statement:
“The review of the personnel situation involving Mrs. Susan Riley is now complete. Based on careful consideration of the facts supported through the independent review, I have decided that Mrs. Riley will retain employment with the school district and will continue in the role of media clerk at DHS.
My decision to terminate Mrs. Riley’s employment with the school district was not a “right decision” as I believed. I made a wrong decision based on facts I believed were more clear than they actually were; for that I have apologized to Mrs. Riley and to the DHS staff and hereby apologize to the greater community for which I caused unnecessary strife.
I always encourage our students and staff to learn from their mistakes and I hold myself to that same standard. Several significant changes in district structure, process, and procedure will be made.
In complex situations like this one, there is frequently more nuance than one would prefer. This will continue to be a sensitive time for students, parents, and faculty as we work through this and related situations. Many people rightfully have strong feelings regarding this entire situation and/or specific aspects of it. I encourage everyone to model for our students constructive and productive approaches for communication and conflict resolution.”