A day after being fired by Jefferson County Public Schools, former Louisville Male High School principal David Mike has filed an appeal with the Kentucky Department of Education to get his job back and his lawyer says he will fight to exonerate Mike "until the end."
attorney William Walsh
In the letter sent to Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday on Wednesday, Mike's attorney William Walsh said Mike “wishes to answer the charges set forth against him” by JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens and asks Holliday to appoint a tribunal to hear his case.
“My client was terminated for alleged conduct unbecoming of a teacher,” Walsh wrote, adding that Mike “denied having engaged in any such conduct.”
Under state law, Holliday will now appoint a three-member tribunal consisting of a teacher, an administrator and a lay person, none of whom reside in Jefferson County, to conduct an administrative hearing, which must begin within 45 days of receiving the letter.
During an interview with WDRB News at his office Wednesday evening, Walsh said Hargens' decision to fire Mike on Tuesday “came as a complete shock to both of us.”
“David is a good man and has been a good employee of JCPS for the past 20 years,” Walsh said. “We are appealing this decision and we are going to show that he is innocent.”
Mike received his termination letter from Hargens on Tuesday, nearly a year after testing improprieties were first alleged at Male High School. The letter said Mike did not create a proper testing environment and that he told a teacher to destroy documents.
Hargens' decision came after a district investigation found it was “inconclusive” as to whether Mike tried to cover up improprieties in how the ACT Compass test – an assessment taken by seniors that could boost the school's percentage of “college ready” students – was administered at Male High late last year.
However, that same investigation substantiated that Mike failed to "insure the security and integrity of the ACT Compass Assessment," allowed "a testing environment at Male that was not conducive to protecting the integrity" of the test and failed to report and correct the violations.
In addition, the investigation found that Mike asked a teacher to discard student notebooks containing notes of practice test questions rather than turn them over to an ACT investigator.
The district's investigation took place following a separate investigation by the Kentucky Department of Education, which found that several violations occurred at Male High as a result of Mike and two other staffers' failure to “ensure the security” of ACT Compass exams given during the fall of 2013.
"Having considered the seriousness of your conduct outlined in this letter and your prior record and length of service, I have concluded that termination of your employment contract is warranted," Hargens wrote in Mike's termination letter.
She included a reference to an incident in August 2006 in which Mike was suspended for two days without pay for retaliating against an employee after the employee's husband complained about management activities at the school.
Walsh said Mike has a “superlative record as a teacher and administrator” in JCPS, serving at Seneca High, Kennedy Middle, and Western High School before being named the principal of Male in May 2013.
“David is a dedicated and able leader and it is a shame that he has been subjected to this attack on his character and career,” Walsh said.
At issue in the JCPS investigation was whether Mike coached students or staff members to lie about cheating that allegedly occurred on the ACT Compass when ACT began looking into how the test was administered in December 2013.
Walsh said Mike complied “fully and cooperatively” with the district's investigation.
Mike admitted, according to the JCPS report, that he told teacher Sarah Graziano to “get rid” of student notebooks used in preparation for the Compass test rather than turn them over to ACT's investigator – an allegation that first came to light in the Kentucky Department of Education's July 3 investigative report.
That happened “after the conclusion” of the initial investigation in December 2013 and before ACT and Kentucky Department of Education officials returned to further investigate Male in May 2014, the Sept. 8 JCPS report noted.
Walsh said Wednesday that Mike instructed all of his staff in December 2013 to “turn over all notes from the Compass test and by and large, everyone complied.”
It wasn't until a few months later, Walsh said, that Graziano came to Mike to tell him that she still had notebooks from the test.
“He did direct her to get rid of them because ACT was no longer there,” Walsh said, adding that at that point, the investigation was over and that Mike “didn't want the notebooks to be used by other students or staff.”
Walsh said Graziano did not get rid of the notebooks; instead she turned them in to ACT.
“David has never lied about what he told Ms. Graziano,” Walsh said, noting that there was “nothing incriminating” in the notebooks.
After previously being told by ACT he could not administer any of its tests, that order was lifted after he underwent training, Walsh said.
“In the spring of 2014, even as he endured the campaign of his opponents to drive him from his job, David oversaw the administration of the same ACT Compass tests at Male without any problems and with complete compliance with all directives regarding the testing,” Walsh said.
Sometime during the summer, ACT again withdrew Mike's ability to further administer any of its tests.
“We have no idea why this happened,” Walsh said.
In a separate two-page written statement, also released Wednesday, Walsh said Hargens “has not only compounded this wrong, she has failed to take action to resolve the crisis of insubordination at Male High School.”
Walsh said during the Spring of 2014, Mike was subjected to a campaign of “slander and disinformation on social media and Male High School was divided between his accusers and supporters.”
“He was harassed and taunted by his opponents. His home was vandalized. He was under immense stress,” Walsh said. “During these months, David's boss, Dr. Donna Hargens, never spoke to him or communicated to him. She offered no support to a principal facing an insurrection by many on his staff.”
Walsh said Hargens has never talked to Mike about the allegations.
“She removed him from Male in June and since then he has been investigated exhaustively,” Walsh said. “The investigations have revealed that David did not commit the wrongs of which he has been accused.”
Although Hargens fired Mike, he is considered to be suspended without pay pending final action by the tribunal appointed by Holliday, according to state law.
The law states that the tribunal members “shall be from a pool of potential tribunal members who have been designated and trained to serve as tribunal members on a regular and ongoing basis,” pursuant to administrative regulations designated by the Kentucky Board of Education.
The hearing may be public or private at the discretion of Mike.
Walsh said he and Mike have not yet determined whether they will ask for a public hearing.
The law states that if after the hearing the decision of the tribunal is against termination of the contract, “the suspended teacher shall be paid his full salary for any period of suspension.”
If the tribunal rules against Mike, the law says he has the right to appeal the decision to Jefferson Circuit Court.
“We hope it doesn't come to that,” Walsh said. “In order to fire him for conduct unbecoming of a teacher, they have to prove he did something intentionally wrong and there is just no evidence of that.”
Walsh said never “encouraged or directed any student or other witness to be untruthful” and he did not “help students answer questions on the ACT Compass test.”
Hargens could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Ben Jackey, a JCPS spokesman, said Tuesday the district would have no further comment about Mike.
The two other Male High staffers involved in the testing scandal, guidance counselor Rhonda Branch and former teacher Debbie Greenberg, are also under investigation by the district.
Greenberg retired from JCPS on July 1, while Branch remains employed but has been reassigned to central office duty pending the outcome of the district's separate investigation.
Jackey said as of Wednesday, there had been no conclusion to Branch's investigation.
Mike, Greenberg and Branch still face a proceeding before the Kentucky Educational Standards Board as a result of the Kentucky Department of Education's investigation.
The board, which controls teacher certifications, acts mostly in secret when handling disciplinary cases, so it's hard to determine where exactly the cases against the three educators stand.
Mike was making $141,000 as Principal of Male High School.
JCPS posted the Male High principal job Wednesday. The deadline to apply is Nov. 28.
You can read the full statement on behalf of David Mike here.
- JCPS fires Louisville Male High School principal David Mike
- JCPS: "Inconclusive" whether Louisville Male Principal David Mike interfered with ACT investigation
- Bullying allegations against Louisville Male High principal David Mike unsubstantiated by JCPS
- JCPS investigating Male High Principal David Mike, "improper practices" at school
- Male HS students stage protest at Vanhoose Education Center after cheating allegations