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Ex-principal sues Warren County schools

Former Ressie Jeffries Elementary says officials defamed her, breached contract

By Joe Beck

The former principal of Ressie Jeffries Elementary School is accusing Warren County school officials of defamation and breach of contract in a lawsuit filed Nov. 8 in Warren County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit by Antoinette Funk gives her version of the events leading up to her abrupt disappearance from her job as principal at Ressie Jeffries in March.

Funk, who is now teaching fifth grade in Berkeley County, W.Va., is demanding $387,539 in damages. School officials in March offered no explanation for her departure, except to state that she was on leave.

The suit states that Superintendent Pamela McInnis placed Funk on administrative leave with pay March 9 after telling her that she was planning to recommend that the school board approve demoting her to a teaching position.

The board followed through on McInnis's recommendation on April 13, according to the suit. Funk learned on May 18 that she had been demoted to sixth grade English teacher at Warren County Middle School, and she resigned in a July 31 letter to McInnis, according to the suit.

The suit argues Funk endured "embarrassment and humiliation in her community" after being removed from her job.

"The superintendent's explanation for plaintiff's absence from her position as principal ... caused individuals to believe plaintiff was seriously ill, suffering a family crisis or had committed a crime or serious school violation," the suit states.

The suit, which lists McInnis and each of the five members of the Warren County Public Schools Board as defendants, also bears County Attorney Blair Mitchell's name as among those receiving court summons.

Mitchell said Friday he had not seen the suit and could not comment until he had been served with the summons. McInnis was away from her office Friday.

The suit states that Funk met with McInnis, Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction, on March 9.

They gave her a letter with a list of alleged failings focused on interactions between Funk, teachers and parents, according to the suit. The letter, the suit states, accuses Funk of "inappropriate, inflexible, disrespectful and condescending communications with colleagues and constituents; increased challenges in cases involving students with special needs ... numerous complaints by parents about their interactions with you; numerous complaints by faculty members regarding their interactions with you."

The letter also contained accusations that Funk favored some teachers over others and worries of threats and retaliation among teachers if they complained about her leadership and conduct, according to the suit.

The suit states that Funk met with the school board in a closed session on March 22 to challenge and deny the case McInnis had made against her.

The suit states Funk told the board members that she worked "very hard to promptly and appropriately address all complaints brought to her by parents, teachers and other staff."

Funk admitted committing some mistakes, but she also contended she tried to "learn from the mistakes, apologize if the situation calls for an apology and take measures to prevent the mistake from happening again," according to the suit.

The suit accuses the defendants of breaching their contract with her by failing to follow a handbook's rules governing evaluation and disciplinary procedures for school administrators. They include failure to formally evaluate her during her two-year tenure as principal and not conducting a pre-evaluation conference. The defendants also failed to give Funk improvement and remediation plans to address the complaints they raised against her, according to the suit.

The suit states that Funk is earning $45,788 a year in her current teaching job in West Virginia, $33,539 a year less than her previous job would have paid her this school year.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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