Oxford school board reverses decision to support accused principal

Oxford Area High School principal David C. Madden leaves a school board meeting in July. TOM KELLY IV / For The Inquirer
Oxford Area High School principal David C. Madden leaves a school board meeting in July. TOM KELLY IV / For The Inquirer
Posted: September 19, 2012

After months of unwavering support for a high school principal accused of demeaning special education students and treating them unfairly, the Oxford Area School Board has reversed course and is now seeking to get rid of him, according to two sources close to the matter.

The board is to meet in a closed session Tuesday night to work out a settlement to remove David C. Madden, suspended earlier this year for demeaning disabled students in several e-mails and text messages, according to the sources. Both are education officials with knowledge of the board's thinking and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Though Oxford's superintendent, Raymond Fischer, recommended that Madden be fired, the majority of the school board initially stood behind him and reinstated him on July 1 after a four-month suspension.

Madden riled parents of special-needs students when it was learned that in e-mails and text messages he called a bipolar student a "psychopath" and compared him to Lee Harvey Oswald and other assassins. The school's director of special education, Jenny LeSage, quit last spring rather than work for Madden.

Last month, a new cache of e-mails surfaced in which Madden discussed his personal life with his girlfriend, an Oxford Area High School business teacher, and called Fischer "an absolute liar and manipulator" and warned, "He better pray I don't snap one day/night."

The board's change of heart appears to have come after another top administrator, the head of the Chester County Intermediate Unit, also advised the board to let Madden go.

The IU has been working with Oxford since the spring to supervise special education and get the district back on track. One lawsuit brought against the district because of Madden has been settled and another is pending. And two complaints about Madden have been filed with the state Department of Education.

The board agreed to abide by the IU's recommendations for improving the district, the source said. Among the first was that Madden must go.

In a Sept. 12 e-mail to board members, IU executive director Joseph O'Brien said negotiations were under way with Madden for him to leave.

O'Brien declined to comment, but said he had several suggestions for the board. He also said two people from the IU were working in Oxford to straighten out the special education program.

"Some of the special education parents are very upset," O'Brien said.

Madden was not at work last week or Monday, according to district personnel. His lawyer, Tom Kelly, did not return a call for comment.

Under consideration is a plan to pay Madden up to three years' salary, sources said.

School board president Joseph Scheese, among Madden's strongest supporters, said he could not discuss the situation.

"We're at a very specific point where we've been told by the district solicitor not to talk about this," he said.

Contact Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123, kboccella@phillynews.com or @kmboccella on Twitter.

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