CHICAGO, Ill. -- A Chicago Public Schools teacher who was removed from her principal post in Rogers Park just weeks before this school year started is now suing the Chicago Board of Education.
Casandra Washington claims she, and other African-American female principals, are being pushed out of their leadership positions at CPS for no good reason.
This is the second lawsuit filed since September alleging that black, female principals are being systematically targeted and replaced with younger, cheaper leadership.
“I was blindsided by it happening. As an employee for 25 years I’ve never had any discipline issues. I’ve always had good to decent evaluations so I was surprised," said Washington, who had been the principal at Gale Elementary School for seven years this summer when she says she was pushed out.
“In my eyes it wasn’t political – it was about what I could do for the children,” she told WGN.
Teachers and parents say Washington was a beloved leader.
Joanna Su, a parent member and vice chair of Local School Councils said Washington is “very warm, very committed, very caring.”
Washington's absence has a ripple effect on a school that was already struggling with a high poverty rate. Nearly 20 percent of Gale students are homeless.
“It came as a big shock to I think teachers, students, families. I think anytime you have an unplanned transition like this is can be really challenging," said Su.
Washington's lawsuit claims CPS has an unwritten policy of targeting African-American female principals - over the age of 40 - and replacing them with younger, cheaper, politically connected leaders.
Two other principals sued in September with similar concerns, one a former principal at Jesse Owens Elementary and the other at Aldridge Elementary.
All three are black and female and say that their male colleagues at similar schools are not getting this same treatment.
“It’s been happening for a long time,” Washington says.
She says she was given last minute, unrealistic performance standards to meet before being pushed out the door.
“It’s a set up. It’s a set up for failure,” Washington says.
In May, CPS issued Washington what's called a Corrective Action Plan. She was given five weeks to raise student test scores.
It didn't happen.
“All these data points to meet before the end of the school year in June were impossible,” Washington says.
She adds that she was further targeted for speaking out publicly when the school's budget was slashed.
“When the schools were closing and we were on the list we galvanized the community and we were very outspoken and they didn’t forget that," she says.
In July, CPS issues her a warning for "conduct unbecoming of a principal," and when student test scored didn't improve right away, CPS removed her from the school.
“Were we where we should have been all the time? No. But we made growth and that’s the most important thing,” Washington says.
Eric Onyango, the lawyer representing these principals, says his clients are being disproportionately targeted and he expects more to come forward.
“They have a right to speak out on issues of public concern without intimidation,” says Onyango.
Washington, who is now on official unpaid leave, says it's a bitter pill to swallow.
“If a person’s been doing their job all of these years, doing what’s right for children, then give them the respect that they need and they deserve,” she says.
Washington signed a settlement agreement with CPS which entitled her to keep some of her salary and benefits through the end of 2016. Her lawsuit is now asking for that agreement to be declared invalid because she did not have all the facts when she signed it. She is now applying for new principal jobs at other CPS schools.
The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association says the principals' concerns are valid. They say at least anecdotally, there appears to be a pattern where black female leaders are on the chopping block, but they are working on compiling the actual data.