Lansing Cole Academy school falsified lockdown logs after skipping exercises
LANSING — A former Lansing charter school employee is suing the school, saying she was fired because she told one of the principals her boss falsified a mandated lockdown exercise log by the state.
Amy Bishop worked as a paraprofessional and administrative assistant at Cole Academy in Lansing for more than seven years, beginning in August 2014, according to the lawsuit. She was never written or disciplined during this time, according to the academy.
Things changed when Bishop complained to her boss, Cole Academy headmistress Traci LaDue, about not doing the lockdown drills and LaDue’s instructions to tamper with the diary, according to the lawsuit. LaDue began to say that Bishop was not meeting expectations and that she could not be counted on.
After telling Cole Academy East principal Stacey Johnson about the lockdown drill log, Johnson told Bishop she approached him with LaDue, according to the lawsuit. Johnson later told Bishop that her relationship with LaDue was “irreparable.”
LaDue and Johnson did not respond for comment.
Johnson gave Bishop a choice: resign or be fired. Bishop chose to be fired, she said.
“I was blown away, like ‘oh, that’s not that important,'” Bishop said. “I didn’t like it, because it’s important. … We’re here to protect these children and make sure they’re safe, along with the rest of the staff.
“I just want students and their families to know that I didn’t just walk away. I didn’t abandon them, I was just trying to do the right thing.”
Michigan schools are required by law to conduct at least eight fire drills, two tornado drills and three lockdown drills per school year.
Cole Academy has just under 400 students from kindergarten through sixth grade.
Lawsuit: School skipped planned lockdown drills
The first drill was due to take place a week after the school had to go into full lockdown on October 22 due to an armed robbery at a nearby mall, the lawsuit said. Less than two weeks after the second scheduled lockdown drill, a student fatally shot four of his classmates at Oxford High School and injured seven.
“When the Oxford shooting happened, (I thought) like, now we really have to do this,” Bishop said. “After shooting, that’s when everything changed.”
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Exercise dates are set well in advance, Bishop said.
“There’s no excuse for not being prepared,” she said. “The point is to practice, to fix mistakes that go wrong. … Not even trying to make them takes my breath away.”
The Cole Academy was supposed to carry out its first scheduled lockdown exercise on October 28, but that didn’t happen. LaDue told Bishop that didn’t happen because there was no security guard present. Confused, Bishop said she told him there was never a security guard present.
Although he did not complete the drill, LaDue asked Bishop to write it down in the safety drill log as if it had been done, according to the lawsuit. Bishop questioned her, but LaDue insisted she do so, Bishop said. LaDue signed this entry to the journal, along with the other three entries for the tornado and fire drills that had already been conducted that year.
A drill scheduled for Nov. 18 also did not take place, nor did his replacement on Nov. 19, according to the lawsuit. Anyway, LaDue signed the Nov. 19 exercise log and it was posted on the website.
At one point, the academy replaced the inaccurate journal with a corrected version, noting on the website that the “inadvertent typological error” had been corrected.
The academy told Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, which oversees it, that putting the inaccurate log online was a mistake, said Janelle Brzezinski, director of communications at the CMU center.
Brzezinski said that because the academy had already reported the issue to the state Department of Education and corrected it, CMU did not pursue the matter further.
Board kicks out member who questioned survey
Former Cole Academy board member Mary Harding said that in discussing a letter Bishop wrote to the board about his dismissal and a subsequent letter the board chairman had written to the CMU, it had been closed.
Shortly after, the board voted to remove her as vice president and board member because she did not have Cole Academy’s best interests at heart, Harding said.
Harding wrote a counter letter and sent it to CMU, but never received a response, she said.
In the letter to CMU, Harding wrote that the board said Bishop was making up his charges and that he was not told to publish the newspaper. It didn’t make sense, Harding said.
Harding said she read that LaDue told investigators the document was not forged, but that she did not read the diary before signing it. Harding said she only had about five minutes to read the 100-page survey and was never able to go back to review it.
“Being a rebel, at the meeting I asked the attorney why Principal LaDue hadn’t read the drill log she was signing,” Harding wrote in his letter to CMU. “I was told something that she just didn’t take the time to read it. Reading the six-line document shouldn’t have taken more than 10-20 seconds. .. .Not reading what she signed FIVE SEPARATE TIMES (as each line had to be resigned after each alleged exercise) doesn’t ring true to me.”
Emotional impact of reporting
Bishop said dealing with this situation has been “emotionally draining”. She is just beginning to take it.
“I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Bishop said. “I was trying to do the right thing. Losing my job and my reputation is embarrassing. It’s been very draining emotionally and mentally.”
Because she was fired during the winter break, she couldn’t say goodbye to the children or explain why she was leaving. She started seeing a lot of them in kindergarten.
“I feel like I let them down,” Bishop said. “It was difficult for many of them. Their parents reached out to me and let me know that the kids miss me.”
Tim Seeger, Bishop’s attorney, said the emotional impact on the whistleblower is something often not talked about.
“Amy took the necessary steps to say ‘hey, that’s wrong’ and she’s the one being punished,” Seeger said. “She did the right thing. She spoke.”
Seeger said it was patently wrong to ignore the responsibility of conducting lockdown drills, especially in times of mass shootings.
“It’s our responsibility to keep them safe,” Bishop said.