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Discrimination complaint against Mehlville dismissed


Executive Editor

A complaint alleging racial discrimination that was filed against the Mehlville School District by former Oakville Senior High School Principal Ed Harris has been dismissed.

The complaint, filed last fall with the Equal Em-ployment Opportunity Commission, had alleged that Harris' contract as principal was not renewed by the Board of Education because he is African American.

"The commission issues the following notice: Based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes,'' the EEOC's dismissal notice stated. "This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.''

The dismissal notice also stated, "You may pursue this matter further by bringing suit against the respondent(s) named in the charge. If you decide to sue, you must sue within 90 days from the receipt of this notice. Otherwise your right to sue is lost.''

The dismissal notice was dated Feb. 13 and no legal action to date has been filed against the Mehlville School District by Harris, according to Superintendent John Cary.

The superintendent has declined to comment further, noting the issue is a personnel matter and citing Harris' right to privacy.

During a telephone interview last Friday, Harris told the Call he has no plans to pursue the issue further, although he still firmly believes his contract was not renewed be-cause he is African American. In fact, Harris contended that EEOC officials told him privately that while they be-lieved he had been the victim of discrimination, his case would be very difficult to prove.

"They were willing to say privately that they were certain it was a discrimination situation, but it wasn't anything they could latch onto legally,'' he said.

The dismissal notice, Harris pointed out, stated that while the EEOC decided not to pursue his case, the commission did not certify he was not discriminated against by the Mehlville School District. Furthermore, the dismissal notice also states that he could pursue the matter as an individual, he said.

"You can carry this further, but we won't pick up the case,'' Harris said, paraphrasing the EEOC's decision. "So the question becomes should you pursue this as an individual and fight what's been done to you because it's inappropriate, wrong, etc.? Should I do this?''

But after weighing his options, Harris said he ultimately decided against pursuing the matter further.

"If you're slinging around pooh, you're bound to get some on you,'' he said, adding that with the exception of a few people in power, "the people in the community of Oakville were very supportive of the things that was I trying to do.''

Filing a racial discrimination complaint with the EEOC has been an eye-opening experience, Harris said.

"I've gotten an education over this ... It's very difficult to prove discrimination against you,'' he said.

The Board of Education voted in April 2000 to hire Harris, the 1999-2000 Illinois State Principal of the Year, as Oakville Senior High principal and he began his duties at the school on July 1 of that year.

During a closed session April 8, 2002, the district ad-ministration recommended the school board consider a motion to re-employ Harris for the 2002-2003 school year. Board Vice President Matt Chellis made the motion, which was seconded by Cindy Christopher, who is the current board president. The motion failed when it did not receive a single vote.

Days after the board's vote not to renew his contract, Harris told the Call that he was surprised the motion to approve his re-employment did not garner a single vote, particularly because board members on several occasions had complimented him on the job he was doing at Oak-ville High.

Eight days after Harris' comments were published in the April 18, 2002, issue of the Call, Cary placed Harris on paid leave although the principal had two months remaining on his contract with the district. No board action was taken to suspend Harris with pay.

Of his decision to place Harris on paid leave, Cary told the Call at the time, "Obviously I can't really talk about personnel issues, but I can say that the whole issue was really more in the realm of a difference in philosophy than an event or incident, that type of thing. I can say that, and we always try to do things in the best interest of kids and decisions that have to be made for the future, which obviously are not going to include Mr. Harris, so we thought in the interest of all involved that this was the best solution."

Harris came to the Mehlville School District after serving as principal at Edwardsville High School in Edwards-ville, Ill., since 1995.

Before becoming principal at Edwardsville High School, he served as principal of Quincy High School in Quincy, Ill., from 1993 to 1995, assistant principal at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in the Ladue School District from 1990 to 1993 and assistant principal at Parkway Central High School in the Parkway School District from 1989 to 1990.

Harris holds an educational specialist degree from North-east Missouri State University, a master of arts degree in education processes from Maryville College and a bachelor of science degree in education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Besides his academic accomplishments, Harris is a published author. "A Letter From the Principal,'' a book about parenting teens through their difficult years, was published in 2001 to great fanfare.

That same year, the Mehlville Board of Education ap-proved a 3.85 percent raise for Harris, increasing his salary to $99,421 from $95,728.

For the 2002-2003 school year, Harris has served as the interim director of secondary education for the Normandy School District. Though he wasn't looking to leave Nor-mandy, he was contacted by the Cahokia School District in Cahokia, Ill., and asked if he was interested in serving as principal at the district's high school.

Harris accepted and signed a three-year contract with the district. His new duties will begin July 1 and he said he is looking forward to the challenges his new job will bring him.

Despite the EEOC's dismissal of his complaint, Harris said he takes solace in the fact that he's been a positive influence on students everywhere he's worked as an educator.

"As far as vindication, I think my job performance speaks for itself wherever I've been,'' Harris said.

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