Whistleblowing teacher fired for exposing teacher thefts of student food?

posted at 11:36 am on July 28, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Maybe this isn’t quite stealing candy from a baby, but if it’s true, it’s as close in reality as it comes.  A teacher in Germantown, PA discovered that her fellow instructors routinely stole federally-funded lunches intended for poor students at Germantown High School.  When she complained to the principal, Samenia Mayer says she was told to mind her own business.  And when she complained to others in the community, Mayer soon found herself out of a job:

SAMENIA MAYER said that she’d always tried to do right by the students she served at Germantown High, where she recruited and trained mentors to keep incoming freshmen on the right path.

So, when she noticed that teachers there were helping themselves to federally funded lunches before their students could get to them during a summer program, she complained to the principal, who ignored her complaints, she said.

Mayer said that the problem became so bad that even when the school ordered more than 100 boxed lunches for about 80 students, up to 20 students still went hungry, an allegation that students backed up last week.

She alerted alumni, clergy and community organizers, about what was going on, but when nothing changed, she called and e-mailed staff at the school district, seeking action. She was told to raise her concerns with the school’s principal, Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi, who turned around and fired her, Mayer said. To add insult to injury, the day after she was fired, signs went up around the building warning teachers not to eat the students’ food.

The principal claims that Mayer also took the lunches herself, which Mayer denies.  Mullen-Bavwidinsi also claimed that Mayer took some of the lunches home for her own children.  The teacher makes a pretty compelling argument that she’d be unlikely to expose a practice in which she partook, especially with such wide dissemination.  Not only that, but Mayer also points out that feeding her children food that had been left out for hours wouldn’t be particularly smart.

The district and the principal also claimed that Mayer’s claims were “unfounded,” which seems to contradict the accusations Mullen-Bavwidinsi makes against Mayer.  Was Mayer the only teacher stealing food, then?  Several students went on the record to support Mayers’ claims, saying that their friends had gone without food because of staff poaching of the lunches.  Mayer also produced an e-mail exchange between her and the principal that seems to cast doubt on the official story:

In an e-mail to Mayer sent on July 17, Mullen-Bavwidinsi told her to leave the matter alone.

“Since you are NOT in charge of DOL incentives as part of your charge, I will respectfully ask that you NOT concern yourself with this issue,” she wrote.

When reached at her school last week, Mullen-Bavwidinsi said that teachers are not allowed to eat the lunches and that she didn’t recall sending the e-mail. She declined to comment further.

I’ll bet she declined to comment further.  That doesn’t sound like, “The problem is all in your head.”  It sounds more like, “Shut up.”  This looks like a case for an Inspector General.

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