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Eileen Blagden: ‘Losing a Job to Keep Kids Safe’

Note: This was submitted to Los Cerritos Community Newspaper from Eileen Blagden, former Principal at Cecil Stowers Elementary School in Cerritos. The opinions in this letter are those of Ms. Blagden. — Editor

By Eileen Blagden

It’s been over two years since I made the decision to defy a direct order from my superiors at the ABC Unified School District to keep my mouth shut about suicide and murder threats from one of my kindergarten teachers. A decision that cost me my job as principal of Stowers Elementary School in Cerritos but probably saved the lives of two teachers and countless students—and I have no regrets.

Schools are where our children come to grow and to learn. It is our responsibility as educators and administrators to keep their environment safe from all forms of danger—even when that danger is coming from a teacher.

So when one of my kindergarten teachers—a teacher who had just returned from a leave of absence after two charges of lewd and lascivious behavior and one conviction for trespassing—came to me looking disheveled, stressed, and with blood visibly on his body, I took his threat to commit suicide and kill two of my other teachers seriously.

In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School and Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandals coupled with the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Seal Beach tragedies, none of us entrusted with the safety of children can afford to guess at the genuineness of the threat when danger presents itself.

I never expected that my actions would have resulted in my demotion back to teacher and banishment from Stowers as well as the school district offering the teacher who made the threats a cash settlement to leave quietly. I expected the school district to back me up, notify the local authorities, and to keep the safety of the children and staff as their number one priority.

But they didn’t, and now two years later, after much speculation and whispering, I am finally breaking my silence as I prepare to move forward to vindicate my name, reputation, and actions on that day in a court of law.

The recent decision by an Assembly committee to reject a bill that would have protected students from sexual predators, further reminds us all that something is seriously wrong when we, as adults, can’t take the steps needed in order to protect children and allow the process to do just the opposite—leave our children vulnerable to random attacks from mentally unstable teachers.

Union regulations and the “politically correct” have paved the way for situations where you can have a kindergarten teacher in the classroom with students who at the same time is banned from all public places, including parks, beaches, and libraries after 6 p.m. in Long Beach.

I am not an activist. I am an educator. I don’t consider what I did as whistle blowing. I considered myself taking the appropriate actions to protect hundreds of kids and dozens of teachers who might have been lost in the crossfire had that teacher taken action on his threats.

If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change anything that I did because at the end of the day, it’s our job to keep schools safe—even from the dangers within.

If through the shame, hurt, and humiliation I have suffered as a result of all of this has to be the catalyst through which we start to have honest and real conversations about school safety, then let’s start talking.

Eileen Blagden

  • Adam Christing says:

    I think Eileen Blagden should not only get her job as principal back, she should receive a promotion and a medal of recognition.
    It’s a travesty that people like this dangerous teacher (and some coaches, and certain Catholic priests, etc.) get “moved around” while people like Blagden get reprimanded or even demoted for doing the right thing!
    What kind of a culture have we become? What could possibly be more important than the lives and well-being of our kids?
    Adam Christing, La Mirada

    • Cheryl says:

      If more of our educators has her ideals,morals and integrity our children would have a much better foundation in which to build their education and life.

  • George Baranowski says:

    ABC Unified School District has completely lost it’s mind. What a bunch of weak individuals this school district has as leaders. Why can’t they just stop protecting those that could harm the children and hire more people like Eileen Blagden. I certainly hope that she is vindicated and someone who put their neck out to protect the children is returned to the place where she can protect them again.
    -George Baranowski

  • Laurie Dato says:

    I can’t imagine any reason for the School District to have been so irresponsible and so wrong in their response to this threat. How dare they behave like idiots! Have they no shame?

    Congratulations to you Eileen for doing the “right thing” and bringing this issue to light and to a Court of Law! You should be given a “Medal” for your efforts to protect the students as well as the teachers in your school. Hope you get your job back and just compensation for all your $ losses.

    Laurie Dato, La Mirada

  • Laurie Dato says:

    What moderation is needed?

  • Cheryl says:

    I have seen Mr. Smuts in action in the past and I never could figure out why so many people thought he was such an upstanting individual. I never was ever able to see that and always thought I was too critical because of my situation.

  • Denise says:

    I admire you, it took courage to do the right thing. Quite frankly, the school district is a disgrace. Their decision to sweep it under the carpet, is just beyond belief. Did their reputation mean more than the safety of the children and teachers? We need more people like you Eileen!

  • Larry Andre says:

    During the spring of 2010 I had the opportunity to attend an ABC School District meeting. Eileen was supposed to be able to make her case of why the charges against her were false. The superintendent made a Freudian slip saying they had made their decision about demotion then quickly corrected himself to say we are here to listen to Ms. Blagden. Then the superintendent proceeded to impede the ability of Ms. Blagden and her attorney to make their case, limiting the time for them to speak. I placed my name on the list to make comments for a 5 minute time slot then when I arose to speak I yielded my time to the attorney for Blagden. Although, the ABC School Board uses Robert’s Rules of Order, the superintendent did not call for the parlimentarian to make a ruling but immediately ruled my yielding out of order and went on to the next person to make comments. Remember, one of the individuals that made the ruling and participated in the Kangaroo Trial of Ms. Blagden was Palido the Cerritos City Councilman. It is time for the Superintendent and Palido to be held accountable for their politically motivated decisions.

    • Where are the Ethics says:

      Seems Mark Pulido turned a blind eye when it came time to get to the truth for Ms. Blagden and now he’s turning a blind eye for Mr. Gray. If Mark Pulido won’t stand for either of these two individuals what does he stand for?

  • Linda Johnson says:

    This principal did the right thing and will no doubt be vindicated.

    That said, her situation demonstrates that predators remain in the schools because administrators often sweep these threats and crimes under the rug. The law allows for the immediate removal of any school employee who commits a serious crime, such as threatening to kill people. If a teacher is convicted of a felony, he almost always loses his license and job. The only time a predator would remain in the classroom is if the administration fails to place the individual on leave and does not file a report with the police. As we saw with Penn State and Miramonte, that’s often what happens.

    Let’s not scapegoat innocent teachers or deny them due process just because of administrative cover-ups. Administrators hire and fire teachers. Unions do not.

    I hope Ms.Blagden keeps her focus on the people responsible and not on innocent employees.

    • Larry Andre says:

      @Linda Johnson, you are correct administration and superintendents hire and fire. The innocent teachers are not the problem, but their union seeking to garner power and support have exercised their ability to do so by money, agenda and manipulation. Truly, the rules as negotiated between the union and Board protected the person who threatened and punished Eileen Blagden for doing what was right. Gary Smuts, Mark Pulido and the others who have placed political advancement and agenda over the best interest of the teachers and students bear most of the burden for this travesty of justice. The problem is Smuts and Pulido have like rats have jumped ship and are no longer accountable for the horrible choices they made and now the ABC School District will pay financially for their actions. I fear for the City of Cerritos since Pulido is now a council member with his agenda driven by the union donations and paid union people who worked on his campaign. One must be forever on guard when dealing with Pulido and his agenda and most of all those who pull the strings over the head of this little puppet

  • Steve Rosenberg says:

    Over and over I read of “demotions” to teaching assignments. Since when has teaching become a branch of the military or big business? Since when has the ultimate goal of an educator been to strive for a principal assignment? A senior teacher never gets “promoted” to an administrative position due to hard work and seniority. Administrative work takes a different skill set and years of training and is quite different from classroom teaching. Not all good teachers are born administrators, not all good administrators are born teachers. It is by no means a position that one is “promoted” into. Classroom teaching is nothing that one get “demoted” to. It’s this sort of simplistic shorthand that misrepresents the profession.

  • Elizabeth Doble says:

    What thoughtful courage it takes to stand up for those whose safety is entrusted to us!

    In education, that safety should be the priority throughout – in hiring, in training, in supervision, in assessment and in policy making. If that kind of overarching, feet-on-the-ground approach were in place at this and other school districts, then we would see immediate and logical support for faculty and/or administrators who call attention to a present danger. And, when people threaten, those threats must be taken seriously.

    What has happened instead is that Principal Blagdon has had to withstand a very unsupportive District stance, that the District has had to marshall negative energy, time and manpower in defense of what is truly indefensible. With so many, instantly-reported circumstances where harm HAS come to individuals, wouldn’t it be far better for school districts, companies and government agencies to put on a proactive focus and effort.

    Instead, in this situation, what has happened is that one individual, Eileen Blagdon, has had to be the one with the courage to decide for the safety of her teachers and students …. and the tenacity to stand by her principled decision.

  • Larry Andre says:

    It is obvious that Mr. Smuts believes right and wrong, along with death threats are variable. This is a man who singlehandedly destroyed the career of Eileen Blagden to protect his ass and his reputation. But the truth is now out in the open and that legacy and reputation Smuts has been trying to protect is now exposed for what it truly is, that being one who is self centered, arrogant, controlled by the special interests that desire these types of issues to be buried. Notibly the organizations that desire to be protected are the unions, there to protect the careers of their members while at the same time chanting the mantra “it’s for the children”

  • Larry Andre says:

    Apparently, Eileen was raised with the same values of many of us “it is ALWAYS right to do right” and the simple fact that even though she and her family have suffered greatly for doing right, she would make the same decisions again to protect the children and teachers under her watchful eye. Bravo, if only the teachers unions and administrators would embrace the same values.