Education

Cedar Rapids School District fires teacher Tammy Ryan after lengthy hearing sparked by black baby doll incident

Supporters of Tammy Ryan say district's finding was contrived

Tammy Ryan hugs a friend Thursday after a three-day hearing with the Cedar Rapids school board over her recommended termination. The board voted afterward to fire her. (Molly Duffy/The Gazette)
Tammy Ryan hugs a friend Thursday after a three-day hearing with the Cedar Rapids school board over her recommended termination. The board voted afterward to fire her. (Molly Duffy/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids school board decided late Thursday to fire Tammy Ryan, a Metro High teacher a district investigation found had “inappropriately” used a black baby doll in the classroom.

The decision came after a closed hearing before the board that stretched over three days. Superintendent Brad Buck recommended the termination in July.

Board members John Laverty, Nancy Humbles, Kristin Janssen and Mary Meisterling approved Ryan’s termination, while Gary Anhalt dissented. Jennifer Borcherding and Rafael Jacobo were not present.

“I thank the board for their attention and their work related to the deliberation, and I appreciate that we had a chance to go through the process, and I respect the decision of the board,” Buck said afterward. “The whole thing is difficult, it’s a difficult circumstance.”

Ryan could appeal.

The teacher of 26 years attended the hearing with legal counsel provided by the teachers’ union, while Buck and Metro Principal Daniel DeVore were represented by district counsel.

Neither Ryan nor district officials have confirmed details over what happened to the black baby doll in the classroom. But in a statement, Ryan has described the incident as “a simple misunderstanding” that should be weighed against an “unblemished” record.

Ryan’s friends and family, who gathered outside the hearing, said reports that have described the incident as racist are incorrect.

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A friend and fellow teacher in the Center Point-Urbana Community School District, Halane Cummings, described the incident as something that “happened in Tammy’s room, but not of Tammy’s making.”

The group, some who have known Ryan since childhood, called the accusations against her “ridiculous.” They told stories of Ryan working diligently with at-risk populations of students, even buying them winter coats and shoelaces.

The most outlandish part of the district’s internal investigation of Ryan, they said, was its finding that she was as a poor role model, unprofessional and using inappropriate teaching methods.

“I think that’s what probably hurts her the most,” Cummings said. “She knows she’s not a racist, but to be told that she’s ineffective and a poor teacher — that, I think, really cuts her to the core.”

Instead of reacting to genuine misconduct, they believe, the Cedar Rapids school district — which has for years faced accusations of racial discrimination — is trying to make an example of Ryan.

Two U.S. Department of Education civil rights investigations of the district are ongoing.

Those investigations — of denial of benefits and of retaliation — were opened in January after a complaint stated a teacher had harassed multiple black students and excluded another student from class for complaining about the treatment of her peers.

The January probe began just months before a federal investigation of racial harassment, which went on for four years, was closed.

“They want a fall person,” Ryan’s stepfather, Harry Hawley, said. “So they can be on the news saying they did something.”

Ryan’s supporters were also skeptical of the board’s ability to be fair.

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“I don’t see how they go against the superintendent,” Ryan’s son, Travis Ryan, said. “They have to work with him all these other days, and now they’re going to be fair? When he’s the one suggesting she should get fired? Something like this should be in front of a judge.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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