URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Urbana’s former superintendent wants his job back and he’s taking the battle for it to court.
Don Owen is suing the Urbana school district and the school board.
He claims that after he voiced concerns about the way they were conducting an audit on hiring practices, they terminated his contract in retaliation.
He says taking the fight to court may be the only way the public can find out what happened behind closed doors.
“They need to held accountable for what they did,” Owen said in an interview. “There’s a lot of things they did that have not come to light yet, they’re not taking responsibility for.”
Here’s a quick recap:
In 2018, Owen’s administration came under fire after they eliminated the dean positions at the middle and high schools.
That fall, student fights turned violent and started to happen more often.
Many people blamed that on a rushed rollout of a restorative justice-based discipline system.
Meanwhile, concerns were building about the administration’s human resources practices, suggesting they were violating district policy in order to hire more people of color.
The school board initiated an audit that found several problems with the district’s hiring practices, but Owen took issue with the audit itself.
“To audit the qualifications of people who are licensed and qualified, specifically because of the color of their skin, is a violation of their rights,” he said.
After he voiced that concern, Owen claims the board terminated his contract in retaliation, even though the board told him it was because he didn’t follow their directives.
Now, Owen says he never should have been ousted.
“I’m committed in ensuring that students of color who have been historically discriminated against and historically marginalized by our system — not by individuals–but by our system — have some form of advocate working for them,” he said.
When asked whether he believes the Urbana school district could do that without him?
“I believe the district has already failed that,” he said.
Owen’s lawsuit also claims he’s been unable to find another job.
He says he hopes the public can get the whole picture in court, even though his attorney says they’re open to settling with the board.
“Unfortunately, I know what they’ve said behind closed doors,” he said. “And I want to make sure that comes to light.”
In a statement, the school board responded to Owen’s lawsuit.
“The Board of Education is aware of the lawsuit filed by Dr. Owen. The School District and individual members of the school board have not yet been served, but we maintain the School District’s policy that we do not discuss pending litigation or individual personnel matters. The Board of Education and its members intend to defend the lawsuit and we are confident that the actions taken were in the best interests of the students, community, and school district.”
- John Dimit, USD116 Board President (on behalf of the board)