Treatment of two principals raises question of principle

August 04, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

FOR ATTORNEY Warren Brown, it all boils down to a tale of two principals.

We know what happened to one, Dr. Andrey Bundley, who was principal at Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy before being transferred to Harbor City Learning Center at the end of this school year. Bundley has been on administrative leave with pay while an investigation continues into alleged grading and graduation irregularities at Walbrook.

On Monday, Brown, sitting in his downtown office with Bundley by his side, said there is more to the "administrative leave" -- folks down at the Kremlin don't even have the guts to use the more appropriate word "suspension" -- than we've been led to believe. Brown handed out to several reporters a copy of a letter William D. Boden, the human resources officer for city schools, sent to Bundley on July 27.

"Serious concerns have been raised as to the appropriate application of BCPSS Board policy and MSDE requirements with respect to promotions and graduation at Walbrook High School for the academic year that just ended," the letter said. "In order to provide for an objective and prompt review of these concerns, a continuing audit of practices and procedures at Walbrook will proceed. During this time, you are not to report [to] or enter any BCPSS facility unless specifically invited to do so or otherwise directed by your Academic Officer, Frank DeStefano. ... We expect your full cooperation with the review and audit. Failure to cooperate as requested may result in disciplinary action."

Brown, who said Bundley was not only his friend but his client, called this "an absurd and outrageous" ban on Bundley entering any school -- or the grounds of any school -- in Baltimore. It's a sharp contrast to another client Brown said he had not long ago: departed City College Principal Joe Wilson. The allegations against Wilson, Brown said, were just as severe. They included theft of computer equipment, cracking one student over the head with a walkie-talkie, assaulting another one and "manipulating the administrative process to exclude African-American males," Brown said. He quickly added that all the accusations against Wilson were groundless.

Brown's danged skippy on that point. Nearly every allegation made against Wilson -- most of them in an anonymous e-mail whispering campaign that made McCarthyism look benign by comparison -- proved, when checked out, to be nothing more than chain-jerking. But, Brown said, Wilson received no letter banning him from all school property. He was presumed innocent, got to explain his side to then-Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones and "participated in the process," according to Brown.

So one guy's presumed innocent, allowed to speak for himself, present his side and have his name cleared, while the other is treated, in Brown's words, "like Charles Manson out on bail." Why the difference?

You'll see a mouse beating down a pit bull before you get an answer to that question from the Kremlin. According to school spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt, the Wilson and Bundley situations are "personnel matters," and no one in the school system would comment on them.

Oh, really?

How about "We find that this is not a pervasive practice, that this is limited to the Walbrook situation."

That's schools CEO Bonnie Copeland, quoted in an article in yesterday's Sun by reporter Laura Loh. It was Copeland responding, specifically, to Bundley's acknowledged practice of letting seniors no more than two credits shy of graduating participate in graduation ceremonies. It seems that Copeland has no problem talking about personnel matters when they serve her purpose. And explaining the grossly different and unfair treatment between Wilson and Bundley obviously doesn't serve her purpose.

But Copeland should answer Brown's question about why Bundley and Wilson have been treated differently, for three very good reasons:

1. Perception: If Copeland doesn't answer, she shows that she continues a long school system tradition of treating the news media like the enemy. (Hey, when it comes to the folks at the Kremlin, we are the enemy and should be darned proud of it.)

2. The race question: Wilson is white. Bundley is black. Does Copeland really need an accusation of racism hanging around her neck right now?

3. Allegations of political payback: One difference most will notice between Bundley and Wilson is that one ran against Mayor Martin O'Malley and one didn't. Yes, we can dismiss the allegation as a paranoid delusion all we want, but the fact remains: Bundley was suspended and banned from all school property. Wilson wasn't.

Somebody down at North Avenue had better start telling us why.

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