Why was teacher, fired in Ohio for physical abuse, hired by DeKalb Schools?

Sandra Meeks-Speller (Courtesy GoFundMe)

Sandra Meeks-Speller (Courtesy GoFundMe)

Sandra Meeks-Speller was reported to local authorities in Ohio after they say she physically and mentally abused students while a school administrator there.

It’s not clear whether anything was done by the Ohio Department of Education, which approves, renews and revokes licenses to teachers and school administrators in the state.

No one will say how Meeks-Speller was allowed to continue teaching after the allegations, or how she got to the DeKalb County School District with the allegations publicly documented.

Meeks-Speller was hired by the DeKalb County School District this summer to teach math at Chamblee Middle School. She was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 10, a week after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested Speller's personnel file, citing information about the incidents at Toledo Public Schools.

“Anytime there’s evidence of some sort physical abuse against a student, (the Ohio Department of Education) receives a report,” said Patty Mazur, spokeswoman for Toledo Public Schools.

In Meeks-Speller’s case, Mazur said: “We absolutely contacted them … and provided the code number for her misconduct.”

DeKalb County School District officials did not say whether they knew about Meek-Speller’s history in Ohio when she was hired.

Ohio Department of Education officials directed a reporter to the department website, which shows Meeks-Speller is still licensed to teach in Ohio.

According to court records, Meeks-Speller was dismissed for not properly handling suspensions and expulsions, and complaints from staff and parents that she’d verbally and physically assaulted students. One investigator said Meeks-Speller pushed students against the wall, put them in a headlock, twisted arms and grabbed them by the neck. She asked a male student once whether he was on his period.

A referee appointed by the Ohio Department of Education recommended overturning the termination, saying forces were working negatively against Meeks-Speller and district officials had not proven the level of misconduct suggested.

The court did not agree. She appealed the termination to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed with previous decisions to uphold her termination.

Still, she was able to get a job with Columbus City Schools in Ohio in 2015. She was hired by DeKalb Schools this summer.

According to Meeks-Speller’s personnel file, she stated on her application for employment with the district that she was terminated by the Ohio district, but did not mention the allegations made against her there.

“As an administrator, I had a conflict with central office regarding teacher duties,” she wrote.

Lisa Harris, who had a child in Meeks-Speller’s math class, said parents were aware of Meeks-Speller’s history in Ohio, but issues locally came to their attention after a curriculum event at the school. Harris said a parent relayed to a group of other parents that Meeks-Speller immediately took a negative tone after mistakenly being called “Spellers,” ignoring the parent the rest of the evening.

About 20 parents held a meeting last month after hearing of issues with Meeks-Speller from their students as well. A letter listing concerns was sent to Superintendent Steve Green.

“I was shocked and disappointed, and also frustrated because this isn’t the first major teacher issue my children have had to deal with,” Harris said. “It was a sad commentary on the obvious lack of leadership in the DeKalb Schools (human resources) department. Just seeing whether she has a license and no felony convictions isn’t enough.

“A simple Google history search would have brought everything up in the first couple of links.”

News of Meeks-Speller's leave of absence comes as the district deals with the recent reassignment of the new principal at Tucker High School. DeKalb Schools officials said Tamra Watts was reassigned to the district's administrative offices effective Monday, but would not give a reason for her reassignment. She became the school's principal in May, after having been principal at Towers High School, her alma mater.