Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Support Services Donna Stevens will have a better idea about her future with the high school Thursday, after a closed session meeting with the District 200 Board of Education.

The high school will not renew Stevens’ contract as an administrator, and Superintendent/Principal Susan Bridge will recommend to reclassify Stevens as a teacher from her current position that oversees student discipline and special education among other things.

Thursday’s board meeting takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the high school, 201 N. Scoville Ave. The agenda item concerning Stevens is scheduled to take place in closed session as a personnel matter, according to board policy. Any board vote on the recommendation concerning Stevens would take place in open session.

No official word has been given by the school concerning why Stevens will not be retained in that position for next year.

If reclassified, Stevens would be eligible to take a teaching position in her area of certification at that level of compensation at OPRF, said school spokesperson Kay Foran. Stevens is certified in special education. She could also pursue employment elsewhere.

Stevens has hired Lee Pulliam, an Oak Park resident, as her attorney. Pulliam questions whether the district can legally remove her in this matter as a tenured employee.

He said that Stevens, who has not spoken publicly about the matter, was asked to resign in early March by Bridge, and told to begin looking for work elsewhere, amid complaints from some employees in Pupil Support Services who worked under her.

Pulliam said that Stevens received two letters, dated April 18 and April 20, from Bridge notifying her of the charges against her. Stevens hired Pulliam shortly after receiving the second letter on April 20, he said.



The second letter outlined six specific complaints against Stevens, said Pulliam, including failure to do timely evaluations of her staff and failure to provide adequate support and supervision to subordinates.

He said the complaints came from subordinates whom Stevens disciplined for poor job performance. He didn’t specify who was disciplined, when and for what reason.

“That’s the first time she has been notified in six years that the administration is not happy with her job performance,” said Pulliam, adding that prior to this Stevens has received positive performance evaluations. “Now it seems that the administration is taking its direction from employees whom she has disciplined, and is using that as ammunition to support the overall charges against her.”

He would not say whether Stevens is seeking to keep her job, instead wanting to wait to hear the specific recommendation at Thursday’s closed session meeting.

“At this point I have to see what the charges are,” said Pulliam. “I don’t want to give the impression that these are all of the facts because I don’t know. This is the information I’ve been given.”

OPRF’s special education and discipline departments have faced ongoing criticism from some parents and advocacy groups, such as APPLE, for such complaints as unfair discipline consequences handed out to black students. Parent groups also leveled criticism against faculty and administrators, including Stevens.

Wednesday Journal, which first broke the Stevens story on Monday at WednesdayJounralOnline.com, contacted parents for a reaction on the district’s decision.

Terry Burke and Scott Berman, OPRF parents critical of the school’s special education department, responded via e-mail, saying that replacing Stevens alone will not solve the problems in the special education administration.

“We are hopeful that the departure of Ms. Stevens marks the beginning of the transition away from the policies that are failing to serve the needs of the three precious communities that are left behind at OPRFHS?#34;African-American students, low-income students, and special education students,” said the Burke-Bermans. Pulliam said he had not previously represented an employee of the district, but has represented OPRF students in discipline cases as early as last year. He said that Stevens was shocked when she learned of the school’s decision.

“As a professional, she was dismayed to learn that after six years of service and positive evaluations, she wondered where this was coming from.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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