Ex-principal wants to take Walbrook case public

October 13, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

AT A NOON news conference Monday, Warren Brown insisted that the hearing that will determine the fate of his client, former Walbrook Uniform Services Academy Principal Andrey Bundley, be held in public.

That's the latest salvo launched in the continuing war between Brown and Bundley on one side and the folks at North Avenue school headquarters on the other. Bundley, who was principal of Walbrook for six years, was reassigned to Harbor City Learning Center over the summer. He was suspended and banned from all school property, and charged with promoting and graduating students who didn't have the proper credits when he was at Walbrook.

Brown said he met with school board lawyers Friday and learned Bundley's hearing is scheduled for Nov. 11 and 12 in a fourth-floor room at school headquarters. Bundley and Brown want that hearing to be public. Brown said school officials have other ideas.

"The problem is [school chief] Bonnie Copeland and her lawyers want to close the hearing to the public and the press," Brown said. "If it remains closed, the truth will not be known. It will be whitewashed. The results will be a foregone conclusion."

Brown then elaborated on that "truth." Bundley's defense has been that he allowed students a couple of credits shy of graduation requirements to participate in commencement ceremonies but would not give them a diploma until they had met those requirements. Students who were passed to another grade after failing courses made them up in Saturday classes. Both of those things, Brown said, were permitted under a program sanctioned by a board of directors that operated Walbrook.

Brown showed reporters a letter he received from James Griffin, who sat on that board.

"I was appointed to the Walbrook High School Board of Directors as a community representative in 1996," Griffin, a former school board member, wrote. "The Walbrook Board of Directors followed the policies set forth by the Board of School Commissions and the New Schools' Initiative Committee.

"The Board provided support and oversight to Dr. Bundley's Matriculation and Remediation Policies until discharged unexpectedly and without reason by former superintendent Dr. Carmen Russo in June 2002. Dr. Bundley was performing a creditable job of grappling with many problems. Some of the problems included overcrowded population, lack of funds to repair the building and an understaffed faculty. Dr. Bundley wanted to provide his students with the best education.

"In my opinion the Board of School Commissioners dismissed Dr. Bundley unfairly."

Bundley hasn't been dismissed - yet. But Brown figures he will be if the hearing is closed to the public and especially the media.

"The media being there will assure some fair oversight," Brown said. "We know [school officials'] motives are not honorable."

That's quite an incendiary charge. It might provoke accusations of recklessness or even demagoguery against Brown, if there weren't a previous case that seems to prove he might have a point.

Let's refer once again to the folder of the Patterson High School student that's filed under "Barrett, DeShawn." He's the young man who did everything by the book this past school year in making up classes he had flunked. The school system busted Barrett's hump anyway and had him kicked off Patterson's football team.

That, however, was not dishonorable. Boneheaded. Misguided. Stupid. But not dishonorable. It was after Barrett's father got a lawyer, went to court and won his case that the dishonor came. A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ordered school officials to reinstate Barrett on the football team. Then officials tried to defy that order.

So, in a time of a severe budget crisis, school officials spent time and money on a case they knew they would lose, lost it and then defied a lawful order. Can you blame Brown and Bundley for not trusting these people?

In defense of the honchos on North Avenue - and they do have one in this case - fairness dictates that I mention that the public or private status of Bundley's hearing has not been decided. Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for city schools, said that "Dr. Bundley can make his request on the morning of the administrative hearing. The hearing officer will make a final determination in accordance with the [school] board rules."

That would be rule 407.03 of the "Conduct of Administrative Hearings," according to Pyatt. Section C reads that "all hearings involving student discipline and involving discipline of personnel shall be conducted privately unless the parties and the hearing officer agree otherwise."

It looks as if we'll have to wait another month to see whether the school system's hearing officer does or does not agree - and why.

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