Principal Was Chided For Telling Of Demotion

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 4, 2006

Earlier this spring, Freedom High School Principal Dorothy McCabe was told by her boss that she was being demoted because, among other reasons, some members of her faculty had allegedly made offensive remarks and created a hostile environment at the school. But in the middle of May, McCabe found herself in her boss's cross hairs yet again because she had talked about her impending departure with Freedom's staff.

Her boss, Deputy Superintendent Rae Darlington, dashed off a sternly worded letter to McCabe threatening that she could be fired if she persisted.

"The direction I gave you was to refrain from informing staff that you would not be returning to Freedom High School next year, until after we had an opportunity to discuss a transition plan," Darlington wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. "As a result of these conversations taking place, the focus on student learning has been compromised. If you continue to not follow my direction and continue any acts of insubordination, I will have no choice but to recommend that further disciplinary action be considered."

The controversy surrounding the removal of McCabe at Prince William's most diverse high school is roiling the Woodbridge area community. Some people say they remain perplexed and angry at the administration's decision.

Last week, parents, teachers and students gathered at the school to talk with school system officials about the decision but were rebuffed when they asked why McCabe was removed, said Christy Sullivan, associate director of the Prince William Education Association, which serves as the district's teachers union.

School officials say they cannot discuss the reasons behind McCabe's departure because it is a personnel issue. In a previous interview, Darlington said that school officials will conduct a national search for a replacement and that an advisory panel of parents, teachers and at least one student will help evaluate candidates.

McCabe will remain principal until July 1. She has declined comment through her attorney, Steven Stone.

McCabe has filed several grievances against the school system, including one alleging that she was discriminated against based on her age. Stone said that when Darlington met with McCabe to discuss her status, Darlington "was asking questions about her age. 'How old are you? I can't believe you're that old.' "

"Darlington claims she was being complimentary, but I don't think it's appropriate for a supervisor to be asking about age right before they're going to tell them they're going to remove them," Stone said.

Sullivan said that McCabe, who is Freedom's first principal, had always received positive evaluations and that she should have been alerted to any criticisms of her performance before a decision was made. McCabe was told in early March that she was being recommended for a transfer, to become an assistant principal at another school, and then at the end of March was given Darlington's memo evaluating her work.

In early April, the Prince William County School Board approved Superintendent Steven L. Walts's recommendation that McCabe be transferred, voting 5 to 2, with one member abstaining. McCabe will appeal that decision if the grievances she filed with school administrators are not successful, according to the Prince William Education Association.

"You hear this story often. Parents and communities are upset because they're not getting enough information," said Dick Flanary, a former Prince William middle school principal who is now the director of professional development services for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "The scrutiny on principals now is much greater than in the past, with schools having to meet [federal and state benchmarks]. We are seeing more of these things."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company