His firing race-based, educator claims Ex-superintendent in Somerset Co. is suing

June 21, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Former Somerset County schools Superintendent H. DeWayne Whittington, who is suing the county school board on the grounds that it fired him for racial reasons, testified yesterday in federal court in Baltimore that a board member treated him with a "plantation mentality."

Although Judge Jillyn K. Schulze ordered that those words be stricken from the record, Whittington went on to say that board member Anna M. Taylor "spoke to me in terms like I was a little boy and she was the superior."

Whittington, the first African-American to head a school district on the Eastern Shore, is suing the all-white county school board that fired him in 1992 for nearly $350,000 in back pay and benefits.

He filed the suit in 1994, two years after the school board voted 3-2 against renewing his four-year contract. About 300 supporters of Whittington opposed his ouster at a board meeting. He was superintendent from 1988 to 1992.

The suit names the board as a defendant along with individual board members: chairman Ted Abbott, John L. Ent Jr., a former (( board chairman, and Taylor.

The defendants deny their decision had anything to do with race.

"This is not a race issue," said their attorney, Leslie R. Stellman. "It's about running a school system. The old fashioned way of running schools that Dr. Whittington used was outdated and was not the way of the '90s -- and that is what the board had a problem with."

Board members, according to defense documents, did not agree with Whittington's aggressive leadership style or his refusal to call in police on school fights. They also said he had not acted aggressively enough to improve test scores on state performance exams.

In 1992 -- the last year of Whittington's tenure as superintendent -- Somerset County ranked near the bottom on state tests of math, reading, writing and citizenship, according to the state Department of Education. But Whittington argues he was making improvements on test scores.

"Dr. Whittington was doing a superb job as superintendent," said Andrew Freeman, Whittington's attorney. "He has given 38 years of his life to education, working his way up from being a janitor to a black leader in a county where the majority of the leadership is white."

His troubles began after the 1989 election of several new board members, which included the defendants, the suit said.

Michelle Puritt, a reporter for the Crisfield Times, a newspaper in Somerset County, testified Wednesday that Ent, who was a candidate for the school board in 1988, told her he was opposed to Whittington as superintendent because he didn't want a "n-----" running the schools.

Stellman, the defendants' attorney, denies that Ent said that.

The trial resumes today.

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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