Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cerritos-Artesia Patch: Richard Blagden Speaks Out at School Board Meeting On Wife's Demotion as Stowers Elementary Principal

July 19, 2012

On July 17 attendees sat in silence as Richard Blagden exhausted his 3-minute limit during the ABC School Board meeting, speaking on behalf of his wife, former Stowers Elementary School principal, Eileen Blagden.

In 2010, Blagden filed a police report that kindergarten teacher Kevin Michael Kirby, who had recently been reassigned to Stowers Elementary, had made suicide and death threats. Kirby had been recently been accused of lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure and convicted of trespassing in the city of Long Beach.

Former Teacher Allegedly Made Suicide and Death Threats

According to Blagden, Kirby said he wanted to kill two teachers at the school and end his own life. When she reported this to a district representative, Blagden said she was told not to say anything.

"She said to me, 'if you report this, you'll be sorry'," Blagden told CBS2 in a sit-down interview. "She made it very clear it was a directive to say nothing."

But after learning the teacher also had a criminal history, she became worried about the safety of the other teachers and her students, prompting her to tell the two teachers
whom he allegedly threatened they didn't have to come to work. Blagden then filed a police report.

After reporting the threats, Blagden was put on a three-month administrative leave, but was demoted back to teacher status. With the help of attorney Ron Wilson, she filed a lawsuit against the ABC Unified School District alleging retaliation for whistle-blowing.

During a taped deposition, recently retired district Superintendent Gary Smuts said Blagden was demoted because she refused to follow a district directive to allow the district representive to verify the information Blagden had given her with regards to the threat.

Settlement Talks Fizzle, Case Set for Trial on Oct. 31

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O'Donnell denied the school district's motion for a summary judgment. The parties were also unable to come to a settlement agreement on July 17 and a jury trial has been set for Oct. 31.

Mr. Blagden: "You're dragging ABC, getting negative publicity."

With just three months left before going to trial, the ABC School District is faced with backlash by Richard Blagden, the husband of former Stower's Elementary principal, Eileen Blagden, regarding her demotion in the district.

Dragging a cart filled with binders containing what Blagden's husband claimed as evidence received by the court, he mentioned incidents of flip-flopping and document fabrication regarding the parties involved in his wife's case. To add, Mr. Blagden cited specific ABC employees as problems to the district.

“You're dragging ABC, getting negative publicity,” he said at the school board meeting earlier this week.

“The problem is at the top. It's Mary Sieu, the superintendent, it's Carol Hansen, the assistant superintendent/human resources, it's Cheryl Bodger, who is the director of schools, and lucky for Gary Smuts he retired.”

The School District's Response

Sieu, when ask for comments regarding Mr. Blagden's comments, could only offer what was written in the district's official statement:

We cannot comment on the reasons why Mrs. Blagden was reassigned, as this matter is still in litigation and she has not authorized us to discuss this matter in public. It is not our practice to litigate matters in the press. However, the decision had absolutely nothing to do with her reporting any threatening behavior to the authorities, as this District takes the safety of its students and employees very seriously. It is unfortunate that Mrs. Blagden has decided to take this matter to the public with her perception of the facts and not allow theDistrict to present its side of the story but since this a personnel matter, absent a release from her, the District is not allowed to discuss the details in public until the trial, which we feel is the proper forum to discuss this matter in public. We look forward to the trial of this matter when the real facts come out about the reasons the District took the actions it did against Mrs. Blagden and we are confident that a jury will find that all of her claims lack merit and that the public will agree that the actions taken against her were more than justified.

Local Television Media Denied Access to School Board Meeting

Following Mr. Blagden's comments, members of KCAL 9/CBS 2 were denied entrance to the school board meeting. Outside the district building, meeting attendee and candidate for 29th Congressional District, Larry Andre, offered comments regarding press being restricted from the meeting.

“This ought not to be a police state, but these individuals in this school district are so interested in protecting their butts,” Andre said. “They don't care about the students. They don't care about the teachers. They don't care about anybody but themselves.”

During the meeting, board president Olympia Chen reminded the audience that issues regarding district personnel should not be discussed during an open meeting.

“Since it's in litigation, we are not to talk about this case,” Chen said.

In a statement issued by a representative for the former Stowers Elementary principal, Blagden said that all she wants is for the truth to come out.

“This is about protecting our children and the staff on the campuses of our schools,” she said. “I did the right thing in reporting the threats to the police. The children come first—not the union, and not the school district’s reputation.”

"It has been the worst nightmare," Blagden told CBS2. "They knew it was wrong, and they covered it up."

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