(UPDATE) Decatur High community in an uproar over firing of longtime media clerkThe front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
Update: On Sunday, Superintendent David Dude announced he was revisiting his decision. For the full story, click here.
Here is our previous story, published on Feb. 27.
Susan Riley, a popular media clerk who worked at Decatur High School for 19 years, was abruptly fired from her job on Friday, Feb. 26 and no one knows why.
Riley declined comment when reached by Decaturish. Several people familiar with her situation said that Riley, who was named a Decatur Hometown Hero in 2011, is in the dark about why she was let go. The decision angered many people, including DHS students, graduates and parents of current and past students. Decaturish received numerous emails on Friday evening stating that Riley was beloved by her students and had served with an impeccable record.
When she received the Hometown Hero award, she was described as, “the heart of the school.”
“Students with no mothers of their own, students facing disciplinary problems, students unable to manage the stress of studies, in over their heads, or without a parent or friend to lean on go to Susan, who makes the media center at the high school – and especially her small office there – a haven where no one is judged, everyone is listened to, and all students are praised and encouraged,” the nomination accompanying the Hometown Hero award says.
Given her reputation, the decision to fire her was baffling to many in the community.
As local attorney Tom Stubbs put it in an email to the superintendent, “It makes absolutely no sense that Susan suddenly became incompetent or incapable of doing her job.”
Superintendent David Dude could not disclose the reason he fired Riley because it is a personnel issue. He did forward a statement he emailed to the DHS community. He said while he cannot explain why she was terminated, he said he had a good reason to do so.
“From time to time in life, we are faced with incredibly difficult decisions,” Dude said. “This situation was one of those times for me. Such a decision is not made without serious and significant consideration of all relevant information.”
In his email he also acknowledged that he knew he would take some heat for his decision.
“I want to remind each of you that all personnel decisions and matters are confidential in nature and I cannot share the details that required me to take such a significant action,” Dude wrote. “But know that the right decision and the popular decision are often not the same thing.”
The termination drama has played out over local email lists throughout the weekend, leading to an exchange between Stubbs and Dude.
“As you might imagine, we respectfully disagree with your decision and your contention that it is a proper weighing of the factors involved,” Stubbs said. “Of course we know there are two sides.”
Stubbs’ emails indicated that there were unspecified allegations made against Riley, and he questions whether Dude investigated them thoroughly before reaching his decision.
Dude said he stands by his decision.
“I wish we could all have an open and honest discussion about the situation, and am confident you would come to the same end result as I did, but unfortunately that is not possible,” Dude wrote to Stubbs. “It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to make such a decision so early in my time here, but we must play the hands we’re dealt. I could have made the easy decision, but I instead made the right decision. I believe that even in my short time here I have shown that I am a person of honesty and integrity. You and others will judge me as you see fit, based on the incomplete information available to you, and I accept that, as imperfect as it is.”
The story does not end there. Several people wrote to Decaturish to express their support for Riley.
Sally Vaughan said she graduated DHS in 2014 and her brother is a current student there. Her parents graduated from the school in the 80’s and her grandmother once worked as a guidance counselor at the school. Vaughn said, “My family as well as the entire community is outraged about the treatment of Ms. Riley, a woman who loved and cared for every student who walked the halls of DHS of the last two decades. She had a positive impact on every young person she talked to. She is the only faculty member I knew of during my time at DHS that was universally adored by both the student body as well as the faculty.”
Vaughan said there will be a demonstration in support of Ms. Riley is planned for Monday, Feb. 29, and it will be attended by alumni, community members and current faculty and students. It well be held across the street from the front entrance of the school. According to the event listing on Facebook, the rally will begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 9 a.m.
People also left outraged comments on Decatur Metro on Friday. Chris Billingsley, a retired Decatur High teacher, wrote that Riley is “maybe the most loved staff member at DHS over the past twenty years.”
“I am thankful that I had the opportunity to work with this wonderful person as long as I did,” he added.
Another commenter suggested that the relationship between Dude and the community is about to get bumpy.
“Mr. Dude,” the commenter wrote. “Your honeymoon is officially over.”