The Kansas National Education Association-Shawnee Mission, the union representing district teachers, has filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor alleging that the district inappropriately transferred two teachers from John Diemer Elementary after they voiced persistent concerns about a building principal who was eventually removed last year.
Wendy Baumgartner, who has since gotten married and is now Wendy Morris, was named principal of John Diemer during the 2017-18 school year. According to the complaint, teachers at the school began raising concerns about Morris’s leadership and brought them to the attention of the KNEA’s building representatives. Those concerns persisted through the following year, when the district conducted an investigation into the building culture.
Following that investigation, Morris was removed as principal of Diemer in January 2019.
Then, in April, the district notified the teachers union’s building representatives at John Diemer that they were being involuntarily transferred to other schools for the 2019-20 school year. The union contends that the reassignments amount to a prohibited practice, and that the district cannot willfully “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their right to protect [union members’] working conditions.”
Reached for comment on the filing of the complaint, Shawnee Mission Chief Communications Officer David Smith said it would be “both inappropriate and against the law for me or any other district administrative staff to comment on a personnel matter, particularly one that is in the arbitration process,” but said that the district does not make personnel moves as a form of retaliation.
The district “is committed both to following the law, and to behaving in ways that are both ethical, and in the best interests of our students,” Smith said. “That is a high moral standard, but one to which we are both proud and duty-bound to hold ourselves, and there is no room in that standard for acts that might be considered retaliation or retribution. That is antithetical to who we are as individuals, and as an organization.”
Morris did not respond to an invitation to comment on the matter. KNEA-SM President Linda Sieck said the union did not have any comment on the issue at this time.
Parents voiced concerns about principal to board of education
Two John Diemer parents raised concerns about Morris before the board of education at the June 24 meeting, detailing problems they had had getting the building administration — and central office administrators — to take problems at the school seriously.
One mother told the board that a boy in her daughter’s third grade class at Diemer had subjected the girl to ongoing sexual harassment through unwanted physical contact and comments. The girl’s parents asked whether the boy could be transferred to another classroom, and were told they could have their daughter moved instead. As the harassment continued, the mother said, Morris told the girl that she simply needed to say “no” more forcefully when the boy was targeting her.
“We feel much of the responsibility for addressing the harassment was placed back on our daughter, an 8-year-old child,” she said.
The mother said the family eventually reached out to the central administration after Morris failed to take meaningful action, and that those attempts to address the situation were futile as well.
It was only after the family threatened to involve a lawyer that the district moved the boy to another classroom.
“After following what we would consider the chain of command, my husband and I were at a loss of how we were supposed to protect our daughter and make her feel safe and comfortable going to school,” the mother said.
Another mother shared similar concerns, saying that attempts to get the district’s elementary services and leadership and learning officials to take the issues at Diemer seriously had been futile at times.
“It concerns me that this chain of command that we trustingly follow to advocate for our kids, for some reason, has in many cases shown questionably exuberant support for the former principal’s decisions,” she said.
Morris is currently serving as an assistant principal at Westridge Middle School for the 2019-20 school year.
You can view the parents’ comments from the June 24 board meeting below:
The complaint filed with the Department of Labor is embedded below: