ITHACA, N.Y.—Parents, teachers and staff gathered early Tuesday morning and then again Tuesday night to reiterate their calls for the return of Northeast Elementary School principal Liddy Coyle to her post.

Coyle was quietly placed on administrative leave in late May, a move made without any explanation and much to the anger of the Northeast community, who protested outside of the school in the wake of the decision. She was replaced on an interim basis by Lynn Klankowski, the district’s evaluation officer, as communicated in a notice by the Ithaca City School District e-mailed to parents and staff once the move had been made.

People stood outside of schools Tuesday morning holding signs and drawing supportive honks from passersby, including Enfield Elementary School, Northeast Elementary, Belle Sherman Elementary, Fall Creek Elementary, and South Hill Elementary. Signs read pro-Coyle slogans like “Where’s the love and restorative justice?” or calling out district officials like “Where’s Liddy, Dr. Brown?”

The group protesting outside of Enfield Elementary School. Credit: Matt Butler / Ithaca Voice

The contingent then continued its demonstration later, appealing to the Board of Education ahead of its Human Resources Work Session by organizing a rally outside of the Board’s offices on Lake Street in Ithaca. Dozens gathered in the rain with signs outside of the board meeting, then filled the 30-minute public comment portion of the meeting with speeches dedicated to Coyle, though adhering to state law that individual employees should not be mentioned during meetings, even if the comments are positive. (Update: A previous version of the story indicated board members had met in the district building, but they met virtually)

One teacher spoke about how they wish the board had been more transparent and offered more explanation, if only because it would have been easier for teachers to relay the message to their students, who they claim are confused that the large presence of Coyle is no longer in school each day. Another mentioned that the board should review the conduct of district officials who were handling Coyle’s situation, deeming the manner that it has been conducted as “disruptive, chaotic and damaging to morale.”

The comments largely echoed those made at the previous board meeting, dispensing glowing praise on Coyle and demanding (at least) more transparency from the board about Coyle’s current employment status, when a resolution can be expected and why the move was made in the first place. Coyle has not responded to a request for comment from The Ithaca Voice, and nobody spoken to for this story or previously claims to have spoken to her since the leave was announced. She was scheduled to hear if she had received tenure or not late last week.

Other comments urged Board of Education members to overturn or reject the district’s decision on Coyle, which they allege has already been made by “central administrators,” which means the superintendent and his staff. While commenters jumped to the conclusion that she was being terminated, that hasn’t actually been confirmed by the district yet.

“I have had enough interactions with everyone at Northeast to say that they are all consistently wonderful,” said Rebecca Bowes, another Northeast parent. “What has not been consistent or wonderful, however, are the feelings about central administration. […] I have heard the most patient and accommodating members of the staff become angry, frustrated, resigned, and now, just plain fearful about how they view decisions made outside the building.”

Board members maintained that they are unable to reveal more information on Coyle’s status during the meeting Tuesday evening. While they fielded the complaints of the crowd, only board members Moira Lang and Chris Malcolm offered substantive responses. Sean Eversley Bradwell, another member, confirmed that the district does not currently have an anti-retaliation policy, but could consider it.

“We do not speak on individuals and confidential situations, and it does create an incredibly difficult communication gap,” Malcolm said. “We have strived long and hard as a board and as an administration to improve our communication, and it sounds like we have a lot more to do. […] I’m sure there will be more conversation to follow in the near future.”

The board then went into executive session, ending public comment. Malcolm stated the session was concerning “matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person.”

Credit: Casey Martin / Ithaca Voice

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com