D.C. School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed has received a letter from the D.C. Office of Human Rights informing him there is "probable cause" to believe he discriminated on the basis of sex against a woman seeking to become superintendent of Region 5 school district.
James Baldwin, director of the Office of Human Rights, told Reed in a letter that his agency had made its finding after investigating a complaint of sex discrimination by Marilyn Brown, former assistant to an acting superintendent of Region 5. She had charged that Reed discriminated against her when he sent the nomination of William J. Saunders to the school board for the high-level position she sought.
Baldwin's letter, which cited a number of, reasons for the finding, declared, "Based on the assumption that a male is more likely to have male friends and would be more likely to exhibit preference for male friends in an employment situation, it is evident that sex was at least a partial motivation for the complainant's non-selection and that (Reed's) acts had the effect or consequence of discriminating against her because of her sex."
George Margolies, legal counsel to superintendent, denied any discrimation on the part of Reed.
Brown was the first choice to be regional superintendent of a panel composed of parents, administrators and school board president Conrad Smith Saunders was their second choice. Under the rules of the selection process, Superintendent Reed has the option of choosing as regional superintendent any of the top three persons recommended by the panel.
"Basically I took the exam and I came out number one," said Brown in explaining her belief that Reed was guilty of sex bias.
"I wasn't recommended (by the superintendent) and I dont' know why, other than sex discrimination."
On the same day last week that the letter was sent to Reed, the school board split 5-to-5 in a vote on the superintendent's nomination of Saunders, thus failing to confirm Saunders as permanent head of the 25 schools in the region. Confirmation requires six votes, a majority of the 11-member board. The evenly divided vote was possible because board member R. Calvin Lockridge was hospitalized after sufferings a heart attack.
The day after the school board's vote against him. Saunders said he asked Reed to reassign him from the post as acting head of Region 5 because "lame ducks" have difficulty in establishing their authority. He said he would not want the regional superintendent's jon if he could not earn it on his own merits.
". . . If Reed pushed me because I know him, then I want the hell out of here," Saunders said.
The board action and Brown's charges of sex discrimination are the latest in a series of controversial events that have surrounded the Region 5 superintendency. The region has not had a permanent superintendent since the District school system was decentralized in 1974 under then Superintendent Barbara Sizemore. The school board's vote not to appoint Saunders was the third time the board has declined to support the person picked by Reed to head Region 5.
Baldwin, in his letter, notified Reed that a conciliation meeting would be held Monday with Brown. Margolies, who will represent Reed at the meeting, said "The superintendent is firm that no discrimination took place." The attorney said Reed will not attend the meeting. Frank Anderson, deputy director of the coffee of human rights, said the conciliation session was set to offer Reed and Brown a chance to settle the case before a formal hearing is scheduled.
Margolies said he expects the matter to go to a formal hearing. If such a hearing is neccessary, a date of it will be set at next week's meeting.
Reed declined comment on the Baldwin letter, saying, "You know I can't talk to you about that. That's a personnel matter for the administration to decide."
Baldwin's letter said Brown is "significantly better qualified" than Saunders for the regional job. The letter said Reed had justified his election of Saunders on the basis of Saunders' nine years of experience as a principal at Eastern High School. Brown has a doctorate in education from Nova University in Florida. Brown, who has never been a principal, served two years as assistant to Gilbert Diggs, former acting superintendent of Region 5.
Brown is currently assistant to the assistant superintendent for research and development.
The human rights office letter also said, "The facts indicate that the superintendent expended some effort to influence the decision of the selection panel members so as to favor the second ranked candidate (Saunders.)"
The human rights agency also noted in its letter Reed and Saunders belong to an exclusive social club, the School Club, a 16-member, all-male group of black school system administrators. The 74-year-old organization was started to serve as a meeting place for black educators when Washington had separate, black and white school systems.
In June, when Saunders was appointed by Reed-as Region 5 superintendent, Brown went to court to get a temporary restraining order to stop the board from confirming Saunders. The court almost immediately quashed the order when school officials testified that Reed had acted within the rules of the selection procedure in choosing Saunders even though Brown was the first choice of the local selection panel.
Although the court order was quashed, the school board tabled Reed's recommendation to name Saunders the regional superintendent. The issue came before the board again at last week's meeting, and Saunders was defeated.
On two previous occasions, the school board refused to confirm Reed's appointment of Diggs, the first acting superintendent of the region, to be its permanent head. Diggs resigned after the second board vote against him, ran for school board membership from Ward 4 and was defeated.
Saunders replaced Diggs in July 1977 as acting head of the region, a racially and economically mixed area that covers parts of three political wards. It stretches from the solidly middle class homes of the 16th and Kennedy streets area on the north, to lower-income and lower middle-class areas of North Capitol Street on the east and Florida Avenue on the south. The region's southern boundary is along Piney Branch Road, a mostly white middleclass area as compared to other sections of the region.
Both Brown and Saunders have applied to become permanent superintendents of other regions. Brown applied to be head of one other region and was not successful. Saunders applied to be head of five of the six regions in the city. He was not successful in any of the regions.
In handling cases, the director of the human rights agency has the authority "to remedy any complaint of discrimination through any order necessary," said Frank Anderson, deputy director of the office "The hearing examiner could recommend back pay, reinstatement or placement in a particular position . . . The remedy must meet the particular circumstances," he added. Director Baldwin makes the final decisions in cases after receiving recommendations of the hearing examiner.
Even if Reed is required to send Brown's name to the school board for appointment to the Region 5 job, however, the school board could vote against her.
Emotions on the matter were running high. School board member John Warren said, "After watching her politick and scream sour grapes about that position, I don't know if she is the kind of person I'd want for the job."
Throughout the events surrounding the naming of a regional superintendent for Region 5 there has been much turmoil in schools in the area. Principals have been dismissed from three schools in the area, Lincoln and Banneker junior high school and Cardozo High School.
"We need the leadership of a regional superintendent," said Shirley Fletcher, a member of the Parents Teachers Association at Banneker Junior High School. "Things have gotten so bad at some of these schools, you can see kids walking down the halls with beer cans in their hands. Going to school is like going to a party for them."
"What is the board doing but playing politics with the lives of the children in this area," said Joan Coleman Horton, president of the Banneker PTA, and a supporter of Saunders. "We need someone in that job (the regional superintendency) who knows they are going to be here for a white and will work to do something for the schools. Mrs. Saunders was very active in the community and it looked to me like he cared. I don't know what the people down at the baord are doing."
Pattie Burks, president of the PTA at Cardozo High School and a member of the Region 5 selection panel that made Brown the number one choice, said a great deal of politics and person alities surrounded the selection process.
"Some people in the community though by the panel picking Marilyn Brown as the number one person, she would get the job," said Burks. "I guess they didn't understand that the superintendent could pick any one of the three we selected."
Delores McCarter, president of the citywide Parent Teachers Association and a mother of students at McKinley High School and Shaw Junior High School, said she was in favor of Brown getting the job.
"Mrs. Brown had been an administrator and also a strong support of parents in the community," said McCarter. "She greatly impressed me as a person who could handle the job, and you must remember thatshe has been affiliated with this area for a number of years."