CINCINNATI – A school district on Thursday suspended a principal and a teacher without pay for violating district policies during a field trip in which students were brought to an elections office, given Democratic literature and allowed to vote.
Virginia Rhodes, principal of Hughes High School, will be suspended for five days and teacher Dennis McFadden, who took the students on the trip, has been suspended for one day, Cincinnati Public Schools said.
Rhodes had already been suspended with pay after students were taken to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 13 and given Democratic sample ballots. A school district spokeswoman has said the students voted.
Messages were left Thursday at Rhodes' home and for McFadden at the school. His home telephone number was not immediately available.
Rhodes had said in an earlier statement posted online by local media that students were given only Democratic literature because a Republican campaign worker declined to provide the GOP equivalent. A Democratic campaign worker distributed the literature, failing to disclose a partisan role, and the teacher had no control over poll workers, Rhodes said.
She also had said that McFadden was being unfairly targeted and disciplining him would send a "chilling message" to all teachers.
An anti-tax group called the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST, has sued the school district over the field trip, calling it "one-sided political activity." The coalition said the trip violated a 2002 agreement reached after an earlier lawsuit against the schools over equal access in a school levy campaign.
Tom Brinkman Jr., the coalition's co-founder and a former Republican state representative who was running for county auditor, said a GOP worker was at the polling place but didn't have a sample Republican ballot and couldn't have legally handed students campaign literature within polling place boundaries.
Brinkman said students "were seen coming off the bus with the Democratic sample ballots."
"The main point is that the Cincinnati schools have become very politicized, and all that political activity is for one party and it's the Democrats," Brinkman said.
The district's statement announcing the suspensions did not refer to the political issues. It said that the suspension of Rhodes was based on violations of district policy, including failure to follow district procedure when authorizing transportation, failure to follow procedure for background checks for chaperones and drivers and allowing students to be transported in donated vans without proper supervision.
McFadden's hearing was held Wednesday. He was found to have violated policy by allowing students to be transported in donated vans without proper supervision, the district said.
"The district has consistently said that no district employees were involved in the distribution of any partisan literature or involved in any attempt to sway voting in any way," district spokeswoman Janet Walsh said Thursday.
She also said there was no violation of the COAST agreement, and "that is not what has been at issue in our disciplinary hearings."
A message left for the Hamilton County Republican Party chairman wasn't immediately returned.
"What I have heard is that the sample ballots were passed out outside the board that day, just like they could be passed out to any voter coming to the board at that time," Burke said. "The Republicans could have done the same thing."