A popular former principal of Locke High School filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the Los Angeles Unified School District and its top officials of illegally firing him last year after he threw his support behind a plan to turn over the troubled campus to a charter school operator.
Frank Wells said he lost his job because of comments he made criticizing the district and supporting the charter petition of Green Dot Public Schools. The lawsuit charges the district with violating his right to free speech. Green Dot ultimately won its fight to run the school, long one of the lowest-performing in the city, and will be handed the keys in July.
The lawsuit specifically cites the district's reaction to an article in The Times in May 2007, in which Wells was quoted as saying "It is criminal to allow a school to continue on year after year, the way this one has. I went to Locke thinking I could turn it around, but I ran into a brick wall." He was removed as principal and reassigned to the district office several weeks later. There, he said, he was assigned a cubicle and "made to sit idle for eight hours a day."
Despite those comments, Wells said in an interview Monday that he had made substantial progress at Locke, reducing violence and raising academic performance.
"I received outstanding evaluations," he said. "Under my leadership, it did improve significantly." The lawsuit says that Wells was officially removed for "improprieties" and "malfeasance," contentions that he calls defamatory.
The lawsuit specifically names Carol Truscott, the former superintendent of the local district that includes Locke, and Scott Braxton, one of her top aides. Both were recently relieved of their duties while the district investigates their handling of the case of an assistant principal, Stephen Thomas Rooney, who is accused of sexual misconduct involving three current and former students at L.A. middle and high schools.
Susan Cox, a spokeswoman for the district, said L.A. Unified officials would have no comment on Wells' lawsuit because it involved both legal and personnel issues.
Wells said in the interview that he recently spoke to Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines and that he hoped they could settle out of court.
Wells has been working as a consultant with Green Dot but says he does not envision a full-time role at Locke after the charter company takes over. "I'd love to be reinstated with LAUSD and work with students in the capacity that I did at Locke High School," he said.
The South Los Angeles campus has been in turmoil much of this year, including a melee last month involving some 600 students. Cortines has told The Times that the school was neglected this year, and he has called for a boost in security there.