Assistant principal sues Oklahoma City Public Schools district for unlawful evaluation

OKLAHOMA CITY - An assistant principal is suing Oklahoma City Public Schools, alleging district officials altered an evaluation in order to keep from retaining her.

Jennifer Vesper, an assistant principal at Hillcrest Elementary School, alleges a district administrator pressured the school's principal to lower her evaluation score so she would be identified for non-retention.

According to the lawsuit, Oklahoma City Public Schools announced in spring of 2016 they would institute a reduction in force (RIF) due to budget cuts. Bracing for a budget shortfall, officials decided to reduce the number of building administration positions.

An RIF procedure called for principals to rate their assistant principals and "the administration accomplishing a rack and stack of the principal's scores to identify who should be eliminated," the lawsuit states.

Principal Shelly Deas of Hillcrest Elementary rated Vesper a '10,' indicating she would not have been subject to the RIF. Vesper claims Secondary Instructional Leadership Director Eduardo Sincado tried to get Deas to lower Vesper's score.

"Sindaco directed OKC Public Schools' outside legal counsel to physically 'pen and ink' Assistant Principal Vesper's rubric from a 10 to a 7", the lawsuit states.

As a result, Vesper was identified for RIF.

Vesper's attorney, Robert Redwine, tells News 4 she was later subject to a hearing. Despite a favorable decision from the school board, he argues Vesper's career and livelihood were damaged.

"The alternative was to simply give up her career and her livelihood. What kind of choice is that?" Redwine said. "If you can pen and ink anybody’s score and force them to go a lengthy arduous hearing then… who can’t that happen to?"

The lawsuit states Vesper is seeking unspecified compensatory damages, plus interest, attorney's fees and costs.

Beth Harrison, chief communications officer for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said they cannot comment pending litigation.

Laura Holmes, an attorney for the district, declined to an on-camera interview Tuesday. The 'Defendants’ Answer' document, which is the defendants’ response to Vesper’s allegations in the lawsuit, indicates Vesper is still employed as an assistant principal with the district and has "suffered no loss of any protectable interest."

Redwine said the hearing never should have happened.

"Jenny, along with a great many teachers and administrators in Oklahoma City Public Schools are very highly dedicated, and really all they want is to be treated fairly," he said.

The next hearing is in January.