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Our View: District could’ve been more open, still should

In a series of articles published this week, The Ennis Daily News gave readers an in-depth look at events surrounding Cassandra Ortiz vs. Ennis Independent School District. The litigation was settled in mediation resulting in Ortiz, the former Lionettes drill instructor, being award $60,000 which will be paid by the district’s insurance carrier. Many might say case closed, let’s move on and that’s certainly what the parties walking away from this legal action seem to be intent on doing.

But this case was highly unusual, a virtual study in contradictions that raised even more questions that begged for a closer examination.

To a degree, it’s understandable that EISD officials would remain mum about the lawsuit when it was still pending litigation, but once it was settled they were no more forthcoming in response to inquiries; no doubt on the advice of attorneys representing the district. While this was indeed a personnel matter, once it moves into the court system it becomes a public matter. In fact, all of the documents and emails that were used in the reporting had to be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request process.

Thus, without the clarity that could have been provided with cooperation and comment from district officials, many questions surrounding this case may be left unanswered.

Did one or more school board members have some kind of issue with Ortiz and was there some kind of pressure put on the superintendent to remove her? By all accounts, Ortiz did what she was hired to do: grow the Lionettes program.

Ortiz didn’t expect to be sent home Oct. 1, 2015 due to her torn ACL and subsequent surgery, especially due to the fact she had been working under the same conditions since July of that year.

Without the district’s side of the story, however, it’s impossible to really know what administrators were thinking. It could have been they simply wanted Ortiz out. It could have been the district wanted Ortiz to work better with the new time clock system it implemented; or maybe Ortiz’s refusal to roll over when the district wanted to cut her pay from $25 per hour to $8 per hour just didn’t sit well with administration.

Whatever the reason was, it’s clear it wasn’t Ortiz’s injury. Using her ACL as the reason left the district in a vulnerable position that resulted in the lawsuit, not to mention the claims that went along with it: that Ortiz was owed back pay for the time she was out and that she should have been paid for the hours of overtime she claimed.

Ortiz’s incident with Ennis High School Principal David Averett on the track during the Sept. 25, 2015 homecoming game is more than likely what pushed the district over the edge with Ortiz. The district’s narrative that Ortiz defied Averett’s order to remain behind the end zone for the duration of the game, at least from the district’s point-of-view, seemed to be the tipping point, as Ortiz was instructed to go home just six days later.

Later, in a letter lauding Ortiz’s accomplishments written by Ennis ISD Superintendent John Chapman, the reason for Ortiz’s reassignment was framed as a financial move and that the district needed to have the position filled by a full-time certified teacher. Yet, that contradicts what Ortiz says she we told by administrators.

The district has had ample opportunity to lend some clarity and share its side of the story. If there was a side of this story that went unreported, it was because the district chose to play its cards close to its vest. While this lawsuit is settled and done, perhaps the most nagging question that remains is, did the district gain any insight from its experience with Ortiz? In some instances, silence is considered golden. For a relatively large governmental entity and one of the largest employers in the city, not so much; taxpayers these days are fairly keen on transparency.

 

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Posted by on Jul 22 2016. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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