BRIDGEPORT – Tisdale Principal Carmen Perez Dickson popped one student in the head and dragged another across the floor like she was a sack of potatoes, two employees at the school testified Monday at Dickson’s ongoing termination hearing.
Neither Elvia Camella, the school secretary, nor Melinda Lawrence, the teacher’s aide, saw the alleged head-slapping incident, but both described the sound and seeing the kindergartener holding his hand to his head when they turned to look.
Camella demonstrated the sound by tapping herself on the head a couple of times.
Both testified hearing the five-year-old shout: “Are you crazy lady, I get seizures.”
Although both staffers are mandatory reporters under state law, neither reported the 2011-12 incidents to the school nurse, parents or Department of Children and Families, in part, they said, because they feared retaliation if they did.
“I tried my best to stay underneath the radar,” said Lawrence, a teacher’s aide at Tisdale. “Meaning I tried to stay out of Ms. Dickson’s way. I didn’t want to become a victim. I witnessed things I didn’t want to happen to me.”
The board was asked to fire Dickson this spring, and the four-hour session was a continuation of a hearing that has stretched sporadically over the summer to a growing crowd of spectators.
A veteran administrator, Dickson is accused of mistreating several students during the 2011-12 school year. The charges were lodged a short time after the state Supreme Court overturned a $1.3 million verdict awarded to Dickson after she sued the district claiming a long campaign of harassment and discrimination.
Dickson was on administrative leave all of the 2012-13 school year. She chose to have the termination hearing held in public and by the board, rather than an arbitration panel.
Most of the early sessions have focused on video-tapes of some of the incidents and testimony by school security guards. During Monday’s session, other staff members testified as well.
Camella described one incident where she said she saw Dickson dragging a kindergartener by the hood of the jacket into the office. “The girl was crying and she was loud,” said Camella. “She looked like a sack of potatoes. I could tell you it was like a gold jacket, fur trimmed. The child was face down… I was shocked.”
She demonstrated for board members how the child was allegedly being carried when some said they couldn’t picture it.
Worried that the child had been dragged all the way from the kindergarten class to the office, Camella said she asked school security to check the security camera.
The head popping incident, said Lawrence, happened after a kindergartener had been sent to the office for misbehaving in class. While waiting for the principal, he began messing with a poster taped to the wall, trying to take it down. Lawrence said Dickson came in, told the student she had “no sympathy for anyone trying to destroy my school.”
She reportedly scooped up the child from beneath his arms, carrying him toward her office. Lawrence said she then heard a smack on the head.
“How do you distinguish a pop on the head versus a pop on hand,” Board member Bobbie Simmons asked Lawrence.
“I have been around people who have popped their children on the head. It was the same sound,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence said although she did not contact DCF she was disturbed enough by the incident to call the district central office. She doesn’t know who she spoke to and did not give her name. She assumed she did not have to.
“I don’t understand why you were afraid,” pressed Simmons.
“I could have loss my job easily. I needed that job,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence was pressed to give examples of the treatment she feared and told of several incidents she perceived as Dickson picking on teachers.
“You knew who Miss Dickson liked and who Miss Dickson didn’t like,” said Lawrence.
Camella also said she feared retaliation.
“She would pick on people,” said Camella.
On the last day of school, Camella said Dickson handed her a poor evaluation, the first negative evaluation she said she received in 17 years with the district. The evaluation called for her to be reassigned.
“She said I had problems with parents I didn’t know about and that I had allegiances that weren’t in line with the administration,” Camella testified.
Dickson’s side has yet to present its witnesses or its side of the story. Perhaps they will when the hearing continues Tuesday.