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D.C. Principal Reassigned Pending Investigation of Harassment Ruling

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page B01

A D.C. elementary school principal who apparently did not divulge during job interviews last summer that he had lost a sexual harassment lawsuit in Memphis was removed from his position pending an investigation, school system officials said last night.

Schools officials told nearly 100 parents at a PTA meeting at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Northeast Washington that Principal Jerry Marlin has been replaced for nowby administrator Lucille Hill-Blidi. A 20-year veteran of the school system, Hill-Blidi served five years as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Southeast.

Citing confidentiality, the officials would not say to what position, if any, Marlin has been transferred. A staff member at the school said he had been temporarily reassigned to central administration.

"Due process must be adhered to," said Tony Dimasi, the school system's acting executive director of human resources. "This is a very sensitive issue."

The school has been deeply divided since news surfaced several months ago about Marlin's sexual harassment case. In December 1999, a federal jury in Memphis ordered the city's school system to pay $182,500 to a woman who had been Marlin's subordinate and had contended that he had made sexual advances toward her at a high school he led there.

School system officials said their criminal background checks did not pick up on the civil case. Marlin told The Washington Post Wednesday that the allegations were false. He said he did not disclose information about the case during his interviews because he wanted "to move on with my life."

Dimasi said in an interview that the school system by law can deny someone employment based on a criminal case, but he was uncertain whether that applies to civil cases.

Last night, parents and teachers expressed frustration over staff turnover at the school, which has had three principals in the last three years.

"My son has had three teachers in first grade alone," said Everette Richardson.

"I know he can't handle three teachers in one year and three principals in three years," Richardson added. "What you're telling me is I have to leave D.C. and go to Maryland."

Some teachers expressed relief at Marlin's departure pending the outcome of the investigation, saying that morale in the school had improved in one day.

"I'd rather have a new principal every year than a bad principal every day of the year," said Nina Harris, a fifth-grade teacher.

"When [teachers are] unhappy, you know it," she added. "Right now we're okay."

Marlin's supporters credit him with cracking down on teachers who show up late or not at all and with starting a Saturday academy to help boost student performance. They attributed the scrutiny of Marlin to disgruntled teachers who do not want to change.

"I think a good school needs a good leader," said Dennis Goodson, a parent. "The teachers don't run the school. Part of being a great teacher is respecting authority."

Parents also expressed concern about budget cuts at the school resulting from the school system's funding formula. The school, they said, has lost foreign language, music and art programs.

School officials said that Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has put together a new leadership team that is trying to introduce improvements.

"This school has a rich history of academic success," said Dale A. Talbert, assistant superintendent for elementary schools. "We have to restore that legacy."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company