Teacher moved amid bullying complaints

By Laurie Hamame - lhamame@aimmediamidwest.com

Frustrations boiled over as parents lodged complaints with the Oberlin board of education on June 26, focusing on one specific teacher’s alleged behavior.

In a public meeting, they singled out sixth grade math teacher Sharyle Strayer, who had received a formal reprimand for “inappropriate conduct” four years ago from then-superintendent John Schroth.

The 2014 document addressed “bullying” behavior and stated all students must be treated equally, fairly, and feel supported.

It was a response to accusations that Strayer had humiliated students in front of their peers by revealing their grades and forcing them to call their parents in front of others to discuss discipline.

There had also been complaints that the teacher played games on her phone during class and assigned unreasonable amounts of homework, according to the parents. The reprimand stated that personal phones were not to be used and homework couldn’t be burdensome.

Schroth wrote that repetition of the problems would lead to his recommendation for termination.

The parents said the document went missing from Strayer’s personnel file.

Speaking to the board, Jeanne Singleton said she found a fellow parent who still had a copy and attached it to another complaint she filed May 8 along with her husband, councilman Kelley Singleton.

The Singletons said one of Strayer’s students was told to call his father about his bad behavior and identify two others — including the Singletons’ son — who allegedly caused problems. Their complaint said they “did not understand or appreciate a student being coerced into leaving a voicemail with parents, especially identifying their child as part of a problem.”

Langston Middle School principal Michael Scott gave Strayer a verbal warning after parents contacted him about the situation.

The board of education voted June 26 to involuntarily transfer Strayer to a position as an intervention support instructor for the 2018-2019 school year.

When asked whether the switch was prompted by parent complaints, superintendent David Hall declined to answer, citing personnel confidentiality.

In her new position, Strayer will work with high school students who are struggling in algebra and assist those taking online courses. She will also co-teach with other teachers but won’t be responsible for submitting grades.

Kelley Singleton told the board he hopes Strayer’s new position won’t jeopardize students’ chances of getting into college.

“Shes a bully,” he said. “She’s treated my child horribly, she’s treated other peoples’ kids horribly. I hope there’s assurance she won’t actively hurt students’ futures.”

“I’m beyond frustrated because there are many chances for the teacher but no second chances for my child to go through sixth grade again,” Jeanne Singleton said.

Parent Richard Katz said he’s had to hire tutors to keep his daughter caught up in class. He said when she asks a question, Strayer has told her she’s done teaching for the day and to go sit down.

“She has watched (Strayer) play Candy Crush on her phone and just sit there and eat,” Katz said in the meeting. “She just shoves food in her mouth and won’t take the time to answer a simple math question.”

Resident Melissa Stalnaker, who has a math degree, said she has already been approached by seven parents who want her to teach their kids instead of Strayer.

Resident Debbi Walsh said she was shocked to learn that complaints were still being made against Strayer. She pulled her son out of the teacher’s class in 2005 because “things were so bad with her.”

At the time, parents took turns sitting in the class, she said, alleging that Strayer was then playing on her cell phone, bullying kids, and eating during class.

“So I don’t know if it’s three strikes and you’re out but 13 years is a long time to be tormenting a lot of kids,” Walsh said. “And we all know when they don’t learn math, it haunts them for years and years to come.”

Nothing in teachers’ contracts prevents them from being fired if they don’t follow the rules, said teachers’ union president Robin Diedrick. There has to be consistent record-keeping on the administrative side, she said.

Teachers can write a rebuttal to anything placed in their personnel file but nothing can be taken out.

Some of Strayers’ issues have been addressed, Hall said, but all teachers are entitled to the same process and he is following a negotiated agreement.

Hall said parents need to submit their concerns in writing and meet with the principal and superintendent.

“Those things have already happened,” Jeanne Singleton said.

“I think the beauty of Oberlin is also its downfall,” said board member Albert Borroni. “We’re a close-knit community. We see each other on the street and we convey these things. If someone tells me as a board member, I’m not going to write it down and put it in a file or send it to the principal. You have to go through the proper channels. Otherwise, it’s just going to die on a line.”

Parents demanded better documentation of complaints, saying they need to know a principal will follow up in good faith.

Hall said he doesn’t want people to think nothing happens. When a concern is brought to administration, action is taken, he said.

Applications are being accepted to fill the sixth grade math teacher position.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame