Chesco principal’s special-ed comments discussed at tense meeting

Posted: July 18, 2012

Several dozen people showed up at an Oxford Area School Board meeting Tuesday night to ask why a high school principal who insulted a special-education student in e-mails still had his job, but they were met with stony silence and threats of eviction when they spoke the principal's name.

Connie Mohn, director of advocacy for the Arc of Chester County, which has filed four grievances with the state Department of Education against principal Dave Madden and two other district employees, had just started a prepared speech when she slipped and said his name.

"You're done," said the board's president, J.L Scheese, Jr. to boos and jeers from the crowd.

Another time, when people shouted out, he threatened to adjourn the meeting.

"You do the catcalling. You disrupt the meeting," he told the audience. "This is a meeting of the Oxford Area School Board, and you are our guests."

Though a few people in the audience said they supported the principal, many were angry that the board reinstated Madden on July 1 after he had been suspended in March for calling a student a "psychopath" and comparing him to famous assassins in e-mails to other staff members. He also complained about special-needs students in general, saying they had more rights than "the innocent."

Parents teared up as they said how hurtful and insensitive the comments were and expressed disbelief that Madden still had his job at Oxford Area High School, although the board has stripped him of his special-education duties.

Chrissy Shelley, whose special-needs son just graduated from high school, said she was concerned that Madden was reportedly being given athletic director responsibilities. "It scares me," she said.

"Everybody has a gift to offer," she said. "Someday your child or your grandchild may be one of those children. God help you."

Barb Sullivan, who lives in West Chester but came to the meeting to lend support, said, "keeping the principal in the district just horrifies me. . . . I would never allow this person to have anything to do with my child."

Susan Bowers, a paraeducator who works with special-needs students in Oxford, also said Madden's name but at first refused to leave the podium. One of the three police officers at the meeting approached her, and she sat down.

Craig Wood of Upper Oxford, whose fifth-grade son is in special education, summed up the audience's frustration when he said to Scheese, "Your behavior has been obnoxious," and he promised to mobilize voters to get rid of the six board members who voted to retain Madden. Three others and the superintendent, Raymond A. Fischer, wanted him out.

In a brief interview after the meeting, Scheese said he was bound by legal constraints from saying anything in public.

"I know I came across a little tough, but this was public comment, not public question-and-answer," he said.

Many parents thanked Fischer as they left the meeting.

"These parents can count on me," he said, shaking hands. "I'll always be in their corner. I work for all students."

Contact Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or

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