She was praised, and then she was fired. In part two of a special report on the former principal of the Choir Academy of Harlem, NY1's Lindsey Christ looks at the expensive legal battle after she was let go and the hard times that have hit the school she once led.
On December 30, 2011, an attorney for the principal of Choir Academy of Harlem sent a letter to the Department of Education. His client, Andrea Ellen Parris, was taking sick leave, after being forced, he said, to work in a moldy building.
She demanded a transfer to another school. But that same day, the DOE sent her a letter, firing her, effective immediately.
Parris says the two are related. She says she lost her job after complaining that the environment had made her sick.
"It's different when parents and students complain, but when the principal becomes ill, then it becomes an issue," she said.
But the DOE said Parris was a difficult employee, that she wouldn't do some of the work she was supposed to do and was quick to blame others.
A DOE review committee looked at the case and unanimously affirmed the decision to fire her. But last November, the State Supreme Court ordered the DOE to reinstate her, with back pay, more than $160,000 so far. The city is appealing.
Meanwhile, Parris has filed a second lawsuit, charging discrimination and asking for an unspecified amount in damages for that.
This is not the first time Parris has taken a school system to court. In 2009, she sued her former employer, the Baltimore Board of Education. Last summer, the charges were dismissed. They were the exact same charges she's now brought against New York: retaliation and discrimination.
"There is retaliation, there is discrimination in the workplace," said attorney Eric Baum. "It happened to Dr. Parris in Baltimore, and it happened here in New York."
In 2010, two years after Parris arrived, Choir Academy of Harlem was still struggling, and the DOE announced plans to shut it down. A year later, officials had a rare change of heart, saying test scores had improved dramatically. The New York Times wrote the school had "saved itself" and quoted Parris.
But last spring, official monitors showed up while students took state exams. Scores plummeted. Now, once again, the city plans to close Choir Academy. The vote is scheduled for Monday.
As for Parris, unless the city wins its appeal, she'll be reinstated, even though the school she ran may no longer exist.