(Oxford, Pennsylvania: a suburb of Philadelphia) Despite being caught texting and emailing comments that degraded a special education student at his school, the Oxford Area School District, a suburban Pennsylvania K-12 district, voted to reinstate the principal of Oxford Area High School on a 6-3 vote. Dr. David Madden had been placed on suspension due to written comments he made regarding a bipolar special education student. At the board meeting following the vote, parents reacted angrily to the decision. Parents discussing the issue had tears in their eyes as they described Dr. Madden’s comments as hurtful and insensitive.
The issue surfaced during a March IEP for the emotionally disturbed student. During the IEP, the student was represented by Lisa Lightner, a special education advocate employed at the Arc of Chester County, a program which provides services to disabled people. Ms. Lightner became bothered when she saw two administrators texting during the meeting. She stole a quick look at the Assistant Principal’s phone and saw that the text was from Dr. Madden, who was also seated at the table, and that it began, “F&!@ this manipulator.”
Ms. Lightner reported the incident to her supervisor. Based on the incidence, Arc instituted a Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) request for all records related to the student. Unearthed in this material were other derogatory messages about the emotionally disturbed student specifically and special educations students in general; all the emails were written and distributed by Dr. Madden via his district email account. In these blasts, he called the student a “psychopath” and expressed concern that the student could be another “Hinkley, Booth, AND Oswald.” (emphasis mine). Regarding special education students generally, he wrote that special education students, who he referred to as “the guilty people,” have more rights than “the innocent.” He went on to state, “Amazing world we live in and equally amazing that people are afraid of lawsuits. I say bring them on.”
Despite all this, the board voted not to fire Dr. Madden, but he has to meet certain stipulations. First, Dr. Madden is no longer be allowed to work with special needs kids. Second, he is being required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Third and finally, Dr. Madden is being required to undergo substance abuse testing. These measures have done little to soothe over harm caused by his comments. In the aftermath, the school’s special education director, Jenny LeSage, quit rather than continuing to work under Dr. Madden. Ms. LeSage was quoted by Philly.com saying,
Why would you have an administrator in a building where you basically say we don’t want you to have anything to do with 200 kids in the building? It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life
In addition, many parents are outraged over the incident.
When concerned parents showed up to voice their disapproval, the board basically attempted to silence their opposition. Parents and concerned citizens were not allowed to mention the administrator by name. Further, questions brought about the board’s decision were left unaddressed. Ironically, because Dr. Madden degraded the special education student, the board had to meet to discuss paying out a settlement of between $200,000 and $250,000. It looks like the Dr.’s desire for lawsuits is going to come true.
Gregory Branch, Esq. runs a solo practitioner educational law firm in Orange County, California. He is a former teacher, assistant principal, and principal of elementary, middle, and high schools. His law firm’s website is www.ocspecialedattorney.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, he and his wife, a school counselor/LMFT/LPCC, work to end school bullying through their organization Bully Proofed. www.bullyproofed.org Finally, his educational law and bullying blog can be found at www.ocspecialedattorney.com/blog.