Alexandria School board returns teacher to shelter for troubled children

Alexandria School board returns teacher to shelter for troubled children
(File Photo)

By Melissa Quinn

School board members overwhelmingly voted January 24 to return teacher Michael Casey to a local shelter for at-risk children after his sudden removal last year came under scrutiny.

Casey, a special education teacher and — once again — full-time instructor at Sheltercare, worked with the organization’s youth for more than two years. However, in early October, Sheltercare administrators learned from Alexandria City Public Schools officials that Casey would be removed.

He departed less than 48 hours later.

Representatives from Sheltercare went before the school board earlier this month looking for answers. But board members held off on making a final decision and instead asked district administrators for more information.

When shelter officials returned to the board January 24, members voted 8-1 in favor of reinstating Casey. The lone dissenting vote came from Marc Williams, who argued the board should not dictate the specific person to fill the position.

Many members cited the students’ needs as their primary concern.

“If this has been operating and puttering right around, why now?” school board member Patricia Hennig asked ACPS officials. “I think this has been a waste of time. I think this has been a waste of energy. And most of all, I think this has been detrimental to the children who are in this program.”

Students returned to their neighborhood public schools after Casey’s departure. They promptly fell back into truancy and struggled with substance abuse and disciplinary problems, among other issues, said Sheltercare representative Lillian Brooks.

Before the board’s vote, Brooks criticized district officials’ delay in making a decision in favor of discussing alternatives, like placing two part-time teachers at the shelter.

“It sounds so confusing to me, and so many things have to be worked out while these kids are still in school floundering around out there while we all stand around and talk about how this is going to work,” she said. “We need a teacher in there tomorrow.”

The students’ well-being aside, Casey’s removal violated a budget agreement with City Hall. Since money for the position comes from a line item in the city budget, removing the teacher in the middle of the school year violated the budget terms.

“It’s very clear that Alexandria [City Public Schools] had some missteps along the way. … We really need to make sure we look at replacing and putting a teacher back at Sheltercare as soon as possible,” board member Kelly Carmichael Booz said. “We can’t afford to wait on behalf of these children any longer.”

Along with reinstating Casey, the board voted to create a partnership between Sheltercare and the district. The two entities will work together to develop a comprehensive program starting next year.