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Board fires Discovery School principal despite parents' pleas

Parents and teachers from a South Buffalo school went down to City Hall hoping to save their principal's job.

Instead, he was fired.

The termination turned into a public spectacle Wednesday when more than two dozen parents and teachers from Discovery School 67, at 911 Abbott Road, pleaded with the Board of Education to reinstate Principal David Thomas, who has been on leave.

Thomas' termination "for cause" was among the list of personnel items for consideration on the board's agenda.

District officials would say nothing about the reasons for letting Thomas go, other than that it was a "sensitive" matter.

Parents, however, believed it stemmed from a recent altercation with a student when the principal was called upon to handle a situation on a school bus.

Board Member Patricia Pierce asked that the board have time to view a video of the incident before making a decision on the principal's termination. The board agreed to pull that item from the agenda and take up the issue in executive session.

When board members emerged from behind closed doors, they agreed to the superintendent's recommendation to fire the principal, Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold said.

The decision was 8 to 1 with Pierce being the only "no" vote. When contacted after the vote, Pierce did not want to get into details, but said she watched the video intently and saw it differently. She described it as "a situation that unfortunately escalated to the point that it did not need to."

She called Thomas an "engaging" principal and Discovery a "great" school that has done well during his short time as principal.

Thomas earned $94,607 as principal, according to district records. His termination was effective immediately.

Parents, meanwhile, have been in the dark ever since the principal did not return to the school after February break, said Kevin Lafferty, a Discovery School parent.

Lafferty was among the supporters at the meeting, many of whom showed up in green "One Discovery" shirts and sweatshirts. Six spoke in the principal's defense.

"It has come to light in recent weeks that our principal is being removed from our building and is on your list tonight for termination for cause," Lafferty told the board. "I'm here to speak on behalf of our principal and hopefully convince you that you are making a poor choice."

Lafferty said he has only heard "rumor and speculation" but asked the board to consider the entirety of the situation before ruining an educator's career.

"I plead with you, talk to the community; talk to the parents," Lafferty said.

The termination was in stark contrast to the pleas from parents, students and teachers.

"He is respectful and supportive of all students and staff," said Discovery teacher Peggy Bley. "He is a great leader. He also makes sure that we all have what we need to be successful at our job. And he encourages us to work as a team."

Molly McHugh, an eighth grader at Discovery said: "He is one of the best people I know and our school wouldn't be the same without him."

Teacher Ann Marie Zaccarine said Thomas has served as principal at the school since April 2016 and has worked closely with faculty and staff to make Discovery a community. The school has the best attendance record among Buffalo schools serving grades pre-K to 8, she said.

"He values faculty and staff input," Zaccarine told the board. "On a daily basis he asks me and others, 'How are students doing? Do we need anything?' He also asks how our families are doing.

"Our school, our community is feeling a great loss right now," Zaccarine said. "We need our principal back."

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