Almost from the moment it began last summer, Deborah Hall Williams's tenure as principal of Annapolis High School was marked by controversy. By the time she was transferred to a job in the school system's central office in March, she had become the focus of a dispute pitting white parents who criticized her against African American community leaders who supported her.
Soon after her departure, a teacher claimed in court that Williams had chased her in a car and twice tried to force her off the road -- an allegation that resulted, briefly, in a judge's banning Williams from school grounds. The claim was never substantiated, and the case was dismissed.
Now, the tensions that dogged Williams are part of a lawsuit she filed last week against the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and Superintendent Eric J. Smith. Williams alleges that her removal from her job constituted breach of contract and was motivated by racial discrimination.
But the 14-page lawsuit raises issues and claims that go beyond the treatment of Williams, describing a school rife with racial disparity and employees who were loathe to reform its culture. The lawsuit claims it is "well known" at the school that "separate education cultures existed for black and white students."
The lawsuit alleges "de facto segregation" in the levels of participation in accelerated academic programs as well as in disciplinary standards. It alleges that black students were disproportionately referred to the principal's office for disciplinary reasons and that certain students were permitted to skip school for family vacations, a practice that discriminated against students whose families "could not afford to take vacations out of the country."
In the end, the lawsuit claims, Williams's efforts to end racial inequalities at the school resulted in "certain faculty and administration members" working to force her out "using false rumors and innuendo." Williams's tires were slashed, the lawsuit claims, and at one point she received a death threat.
Schools spokesman Jonathan Brice declined to discuss the allegations, citing a policy of not commenting on personnel matters or pending litigation.
Smith has said a consultant's study convinced him that Williams had not done enough to ensure the safety of students or gain the support of staff members and parents.