Detroit district fires Moses Field principal accused of covering up abuse allegations

A person in a suit speaks on a school auditorium
The Detroit Public Schools Community District board fired several employees during a meeting Tuesday, including the principal of Moses Field Center. (Quinn Banks for BridgeDetroit)

The Detroit school board fired the principal of Moses Field Center after the district found that he failed to properly investigate and report incidents of alleged abuse at the school for students with special education needs.

Derrick Graves, a longtime Detroit Public Schools Community District employee, lied about his failure to report the incidents to authorities and provided contradictory statements about when he learned of the abuse allegations, according to a district investigation report.

Graves was one of three district employees fired during Tuesday’s school board meeting. The only board member to oppose his termination was Sherry Gay-Dagnogo.

The others fired were a Thurgood Marshall Elementary-Middle School paraprofessional, identified in board documents by the initials “DC,” who allegedly brought a loaded gun onto district grounds; and Northwestern High School security guard Antar Otis, who was accused of assaulting a student.

A seventh-grade teacher at Ronald Brown Academy, identified only by the initials “RL,” accused of being verbally and physically abusive to students, was suspended for 30 days without pay.

Graves is the second Moses Field employee fired by the district over the abuse allegations, which surfaced earlier this year and have led to a lawsuit against the district.

Felicia Perkins, a paraprofessional, was fired in June and arraigned in Wayne County Court in May on charges of fourth-degree child abuse, and assault and battery. She is accused of leading a 12-year-old boy “by his neck to the main office,” where she “swatted” him and “snatched an item from his hand,” according to a district report.

Days later, the report said, she swatted another student, “aggressively pulling the arm and chair (of the student) in response to him holding a shoe in her direction.”

Another Moses Field paraprofessional was also investigated for alleged abuse, but a review by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office found insufficient evidence to bring charges in that case.

Dash Sadiku, a Detroit Federation of Teachers building representative and physical education teacher at Moses Field, spoke in support of Graves at the board meeting, with five staff members surrounding her. She asked that Graves be reinstated, saying he is an exceptional leader who has served the district for 27 years. Sadiku mentioned the Moses Field parents who have filed a lawsuit against DPSCD alleging that it covered up acts of child abuse.

“They have not only tarnished the reputation of our staff and the legacy of our school, but are now threatening our careers and our livelihoods,” Sadiku said. “We, the collective staff at Moses Field, have sought support from the senior DPSCD administration on numerous occasions throughout the year, pleading for intervention and resolution to the accusations and threats we faced. Instead of protecting us from harassment, today we find ourselves without our trusted leader, Mr. Graves, who has been unfairly targeted.”

Ronald Brown Academy teacher admitted assaulting student

The school board suspended teacher “RL” at Ronald Brown Academy after Principal Deanna Hunt and Dean of Culture LaMar Tyler received complaints from his students in February, saying that the teacher was fat-shaming them and making comments about their genitalia. In addition, 45 students submitted written statements alleging RL made inappropriate comments like, “Your (expletive) is too big to be doing certain things,” the class is “ugly and won’t be nothing,” and that the class was “slow.”

In March, DPSCD claims a physical incident occurred, with RL grabbing, hitting, and pushing a student.

Three parents, including the parent of the child who was allegedly hit, submitted written complaints, saying RL was rude, immature, and disrespectful in meetings they had with him to discuss their children.

During RL’s investigatory interview, he admitted to grabbing and hitting the male student, saying that was the only student he assaulted. The teacher also admitted that he regularly used inappropriate language when engaging with students, although he denied that he called the class stupid. After the investigatory interview, RL provided a written statement apologizing for his conduct, saying he “made a mistake” and it “would not happen again.”

Thurgood Marshall educator brought weapon on district property

According to the district report, “DC” from Thurgood Marshall admitted to having a loaded firearm on district property. The firearm had 15 rounds, including one round in the chamber, as well as an additional magazine loaded with 12 live rounds. DC said she was carrying the gun unknowingly and brought it on district property by accident. She also failed to report the incident to the school administration before it was discovered.

Confrontation escalated at Northwestern

The action against Otis, the security guard, involved an Oct. 4 confrontation with a 17-year-old Northwestern student that escalated in the hallway. In a video of the incident, the student is seen struggling as Otis pinned him to the floor.

During a news conference last month, the student, who asked to not be identified, said he had a brief confrontation with the security guard in September over wearing a hoodie in school. He said that he believed the situation was resolved after a fist bump, but that it escalated after the guard made threatening comments.

According to the district report, Otis had his arm around the back of the teen’s neck and his arm in a hold, even when Dean of Culture Eric Gaston attempted to break up the fight. Otis said that he did this to avoid being assaulted further. The guard also told investigators that two other students were attempting to punch him while he was pinning down the 17-year-old, but security footage shows them trying to pull Otis off of the student.

The guard bent the teen’s arm and wrist backward three times before standing up and releasing him. The student said he sustained injuries to his mouth, arm, and wrist.

His family filed a $15 million lawsuit against DPSCD, accusing the district of negligence, assault, and emotional distress. The security guard was “immediately removed and placed on administrative leave” following the incident, according to a statement from DPSCD spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson.

“The district does not tolerate abuse of students and will take necessary disciplinary action, including termination after its investigation is complete and all of the facts regarding the incident are determined,” Wilson said.

Micah Walker is a reporter for BridgeDetroit, where she covers arts, culture, and education. Contact Micah at mwalker@bridgedetroit.com.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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