Probe Finds Misconduct By School Candidate

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

A Prince William County School Board candidate who formerly taught in county schools verbally abused teachers and students, fabricated allegations of teacher misconduct and violated testing protocol while students were taking state exams, a school system investigation concluded.

Manes Pierre, 40, is challenging board member Julie C. Lucas (Neabsco) in the Nov. 6 election. Documents obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request reveal details about Pierre's bumpy three-year stint in the school system, which ended this year when officials decided not to renew his contract. The documents also offer a window into a realm of personnel issues usually shut to the public.

The documents, which summarize the school system's findings about Pierre, were sent to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in response to complaints he filed in 2006 and this year. Pierre, born in Haiti, alleged that school officials discriminated against him on the basis of his sex and national origin. The case was dismissed after the commission found that it was unable to conclude there had been a violation of law.

At one point in the 2005-06 school year, Pierre accused a married female colleague at Freedom High School of unwanted sexual advances -- an allegation that school officials concluded was false. The female teacher and others who worked with Pierre in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program were embittered.

"I avoid Mr. Pierre at all costs now and am afraid to say anything in front of him," one ESOL teacher wrote to investigators.

School officials also received reports that Pierre attempted to choke a student and that he punished a female student after she complained he had been staring at her chest, the documents show.

Asked about the allegations in the documents, Pierre said: "If they can go and falsify my employment record to get to me, that tells you the amount of corruption there is on the Prince William County School Board." He declined to comment further.

Pierre was placed on administrative leave in January, and officials decided in March not to renew his contract. He is now an adjunct English professor with the online University of Phoenix.

In his race for School Board, Pierre has said that raising student achievement and graduation rates is one of his major goals. The campaign platform on his Web site calls for "dignity in the classroom."

Pierre began work as an ESOL teacher in Prince William in October 2004 at McAuliffe Elementary School in Woodbridge. There, he yelled at students and teachers and attempted to "intimidate his ESOL team members, raising unfounded allegations of misconduct . . . and repeatedly lying to cover up his own behaviors," school officials concluded.

In April 2005, school investigators found, Pierre violated state testing procedures on a reading exam. A school employee "personally observed Pierre reading the actual test questions to the students and spoke to him about the irregularity, which voided the test results," according to the documents.

Pierre transferred to Freedom High in Woodbridge the next year. He had trouble with routine tasks at the school, such as recording student attendance data through a computer program, investigators found.

In March 2006, a student told administrators that Pierre "always looked at her breasts and that she had 'called him on it' by asking, 'Why do you look at me like that . . .?' "

The teacher whom Pierre accused of sexual advances "dreaded" coming to work, school investigators found. "She lost sleep and weight over the situation."

Christy Sullivan of the Prince William Education Association, which represents more than 3,000 county teachers, said she assisted the teacher as officials reviewed Pierre's charge.

"The allegations were totally unfounded, and she was totally cleared," said Sullivan, who also represented Pierre when he was later accused of verbally abusing students.

In his third year with the county, Pierre was transferred to Stonewall Middle School near Manassas. In November 2006, several ESOL students complained that he had repeatedly told them in Spanish or English to "shut up" when they attempted to ask questions, had barred them from speaking in Spanish to understand a point made in English and had not allowed them to use the restroom, according to the documents. Pierre denied the allegations in a memo to school officials.

The investigation summary states: "Pierre's memo offered no explanation why eleven different students would fabricate the allegations against him."

Recently, Pierre accused school officials of having a vendetta against him because he questioned what he viewed as the misuse of federal ESOL money. Officials denied any misuse of such funds. The school system "has never 'retaliated' against Mr. Pierre for any reason," Keith Imon, an associate superintendent, said in a statement.

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