Teacher’s removal from shelter for troubled children raises concerns

Teacher’s removal from shelter for troubled children raises concerns
(File photo)

By Melissa Quinn

Michael Casey provided an education for the 11 at-risk youth housed at Alexandria’s Sheltercare program until public school officials abruptly reassigned him in October.

Casey, a certified special education teacher, worked with the students for more than two years, but on October 13, Alexandria City Public Schools pulled him from the shelter — with less than 48-hours notice.

Casey’s removal from Sheltercare came as a shock for director Susan Lumpkin and fellow staff. Sheltercare representatives Dorothea Peters and Lillian Brooks shared their displeasure with ACPS’ lack of communication at a school board meeting January 10.

“There should be a partnership,” Peters said. “There should be notice.”

Sheltercare provides a safe, stable environment for teens with a history of running away and truant behavior, and many — placed there by Alexandria Juvenile Domestic Relations Court judges — are encouraged by probation officers not to return to their home schools, like T.C. Williams.

But without Casey, Sheltercare staff has no choice but to send its residents to public schools. Since his departure, behavior among the facility’s students has gotten progressively worse, officials said.

Since his reassignment, 10 students received out-of-school suspensions, and there were 26 instances of truancy, three substance abuse issues, and six cases of physical aggression or threatening behavior at school, among others.
The spike is tied directly to Casey’s exit, Brooks said.

“Would you consider that a success of removing that teacher?” Brooks asked. “I wouldn’t. I think that shows how well that process — that new and improved process — is working.”

Because funding for Sheltercare — and specifically Casey — comes from a line item in the city’s budget, school board chairwoman Karen Graf also worried Casey’s removal in the middle of the budget year violated the terms set forth by City Hall.

In the past, ACPS paid the teacher and then received reimbursement from the city’s coffers.
Despite pleas from Sheltercare staff, Deputy Superintendent Mayde Henson said there was no way the teacher would return.

But board members decided — with Superintendent Morton Sherman — to address the issue again at tonight’s meeting, hoping to reach an understanding between Sheltercare and ACPS.