(PHOTOS) Community rallies to support Decatur High media clerkIsaiah Lewis (left) and his father Jeremy hold signs in support of Susan Riley as they stand across from Decatur High School during the Rally for Riley on Monday morning. Photo: Jonathan Phillips
By Mariann Martin, contributor
More than 100 supporters chanted, held signs, shared stories and shivered in the chilly morning air Monday as they gathered to voice their support for a beloved Decatur High School media clerk who was fired on Friday.
“She is the most universally loved person I have ever met,” Sarah Stubbs, one of the rally organizers and a 2014 Decatur High graduate, told the crowd. “You are not going to hear from one specific type of person today…but all of them have been unconditionally loved by Ms. Riley.”
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Susan Riley, who has worked at Decatur High for 19 years, was terminated Friday without being told why she was fired. After an immediate outcry from students, alumni, parents and staff, Superintendent David Dude reversed the firing on Sunday evening and placed Riley on paid administrative leave pending a third-party review.
Stubbs and Sara Norman, also a 2014 alum, organized Monday’s rally through a Facebook event. The crowd gathered in a lot across from the Decatur High School entrance at 7:30 a.m., carrying signs and chanting their support. They also signed a huge poster that supporters said they would deliver to Riley, along with video from the rally.
“We love Mama Riley,” one sign said. Riley was named a Decatur Hometown Hero in 2011, when she was described as “the heart of the school.”
Many of the supporters were current students who came out before their classes started, while others described themselves as parents and community supporters. As people drove past the crowd, they slowed and honked their horns. Across the street at the school entrance, more than 30 staff and faculty lined up in a row to show their support. Many of them wore black and waved at the supporters across the street before they headed inside the school to begin their workday.
Several students broke down in tears as they shared stories about Riley, talking about her ceaseless encouragement and support for every student. Parents and staff who worked with her over the years also spoke about her dedication and years of support to every student at the school.
“Ms. Riley had that special way of just looking you in the eye and making you feel like one in a million,” said Denzel Taylor, 2016 senior class president.
“She saved my life,” another student added.
During the rally, Stubbs read a text from Riley sent to Lynne Norman, a friend.
“Funny thing happened this weekend,” she wrote. “I got fired and I’ve never felt more loved and validated in all my life. I just know it’s gonna be OK. Thankful for my faith.”
Riley did not attend the rally, but several of her family, including a son and nephew were there.
“She is overwhelmed by all the support,” son Drew Riley said after the rally. “We know only good things are going to come out of this.”
Dude also attended the rally, but did not speak. After the rally, he said he would sit down with Riley and her lawyer early this week to choose someone to conduct an outside review of her termination.
“Whoever we pick, it has to be someone she is comfortable with,” Dude said.
Dude and the school board met Sunday evening in an executive session to discussion the situation. Dude declined to discuss the meeting, citing personnel matters.
He said it was important for him to attend the rally and listen to everyone who spoke.
“I’m impressed by the students who organized this. It is testament to the school system that they chose to express themselves in a positive way,” he said.
During the rally, several people thanked Dude for attending and said they had faith he would do the right thing. They urged him to ensure an independent person conducted the review of Riley’s termination.
Dude said he would provide updates in the review process and would continue to respond to emails from community members.
Here are more photos from the rally for Riley:
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