A teacher lost her job after she clashed with administrators over a new security system at Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna Township, which bars people without an ID from getting past the school’s security system.
Now, she’s alleging the system is discriminatory and restricts the public from attending board of education meetings in a locked building, which she said violates Ohio’s open meetings laws.
Jennifer Case, who taught English as a Second Language through the Aspire program, administered by Maplewood, parted ways with the district shortly before her contract expired June 30.
Case defied the career center’s policy to bar people without an ID from a GED graduation at Maplewood on June 15. That same night, the Maplewood Board of Education was conducting its monthly meeting, and Case said holding the meeting behind closed doors violated the open meetings law.
Maplewood launches School Safe ID system for visitors in December
In December 2022, the career center installed the School Safe ID system. Visitors to the building are instructed to scan their driver’s license or state ID and receive a sticker. A sign at the school entrance asks visitors to ring the doorbell if they don’t have an ID.
Superintendent Randy Griffith said staff and students don’t need to use the system. In the coming school year, he said the system will be expanded into “heavy customer service areas,” such as the Maple Leaf Restaurant.
“The safety and security of the students and staff at the Maplewood Career Center is of the utmost importance,” he said
Those who attend a board meeting but don’t have an ID are instructed to ring the “doorbell” and are asked why they want to enter building. If they are there to attend the board meeting, Griffith said, they are let into the building and escorted to the board room.
‘Civil disobedience’ at graduation
Aspire held its GED graduation at Maplewood on June 15. The day before, while setting up for the event, Aspire teachers were told Maplewood would not allow anyone in the building for the graduation if they didn’t have a driver’s license or state ID.
Case said teachers were surprised and knew that at least a few people would forget their IDs.
“Some Aspire students and families come from circumstances that make getting a traditional ID more difficult, like serving time in jail, being temporary Ohio residents, not having access to necessary documents, transportation or the funds to pay for the fees,” she said.
After thinking and praying about what she was going to do, Case said she decided to stand by the front entrance and open the doors for anyone who was turned away.
“This was my way, albeit small, of enacting civil disobedience in my workplace,” she said. “I could not comply with such an unjust and discriminatory policy.”
Case said she let a few people into the building, including an older couple who were “near tears” at the thought of missing their grandchild’s graduation. Aspire’s adult education director told her she was breaking Maplewood’s security protocol, and Case said she believed she had no choice, and that the graduates deserved to have their loved ones present.
“She repeated herself, and I repeated that I did not feel I had a choice,” Case said. “I had to let our guests in no matter what, even if it meant the superintendent had to fire me.”
On June 21, Griffith sent Case a certified letter, stating that she was “relieved” from her duties with pay until her contract expired, and that Maplewood would not issue a new contract. The letter did not state a reason.
However, another document in her personnel file described her actions as “insubordinate actions” and states that Case was “terminated for cause.” The document was not signed, and it was unclear who wrote it.
Griffith said the GED graduates were told by their instructor that a state ID would be required to get into the building, and the instructor told them to inform their guests. The graduates were emailed the information May 31 and June 12, and the same information was conveyed in a June 12 phone call to graduates.
“No graduate or guest contacted the Career Center prior to the event to raise concerns about the Career Center’s security system or to request alternative arrangements,” Griffith said.
NAACP of Portage County questions ID requirement to attend graduation
Case, who also serves on the executive board of the NAACP of Portage County, addressed the incident at the Maplewood Board of Education’s recent meeting. Renee Romine, president of the civil rights organization, attended the meeting at Case’s invitation.
Case told the board that she decided to let in anyone who was turned away.
“I could not comply with such an unjust and discriminatory policy, and I knew that exceptions had already been made at the National Honor Society event.” At that event, Case said, the system was overloaded and parents were allowed in the building without scanning their ID. Griffith said he was unaware of such an incident.
Romine said she is concerned that people were turned away at the graduation, especially if it was true that others were permitted inside without an ID at the National Honor Society event because of a possible glitch in the system.
“That tells me that the people at the graduation were less than, and not as important,” Romine said.
Sunshine law concerns
Case claimed that Griffith “repeatedly” broke the state’s open meetings act, also known as the sunshine law. That law, she said, states that board meetings may not be held behind locked doors. A board meeting was being conducted on the same night as the GED graduation.
“For as long as Maplewood School Board has met in a locked building, the official that required the doors to be locked, namely Superintendent Randy Griffith, is liable under the open meetings act,” Case said.
Case asked the board to find a way to use the system to protect students during the day, while still allowing visitors to attend meetings and events at night.
Student reaches out
One of the students in Case’s English as a Second Language classes emailed Griffith after her contract was not renewed. The student asked Griffith to reinstate Case to her position, citing the value of her lessons.
Griffith replied to the email, explaining that Case had taken issue with the career center’s security protocols. If Case is interested in continuing her employment, he stated, she should arrange an in-person meeting with Griffith.
“Please know that a meeting will be at the discretion of Ms. Case, and such a meeting may or may not result in the outcome you desire,” he stated in the email to the student. He apologized for the “unfortunate turn of events.”
Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Maplewood teacher let go after defying school’s visitor ID rule