By Jon Craig
For more than four decades, Ronald O. Ross, 69, has built a mostly stellar – but sometimes rocky – reputation as a teacher, principal and most recently, superintendent for the Greenburgh Central School District.
So a federal race and gender discrimination complaint filed on May 1 against Ross and five of Greenburgh’s seven school board members came as a surprise to his public supporters, but not to private detractors. It also resulted in his being placed on paid administrative leave last week by some of the same Board of Education members who join Ross as individual defendants in the lawsuit. The suit alleges that its eight plaintiffs, all employees of the Greenburgh school district “suffered intangible damages.” During an executive session late on May 5, the school board voted to place Ross on paid administrative assignment until a hearing is held on unspecified disciplinary charges that were filed against him on March 27. The federal lawsuit was dated April 25, but not filed until May 1 in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
The 1967 graduate of Howard University began his educational career by teaching in Harlem with Teacher Corps. He was a deputy superintendent with the Hempstead schools on Long Island from 1996-98 after serving as a teacher, assistant principal and principal for 14 years there. Ross was appointed as the first black superintendent with the Mount Vernon School District from 1998-2002. After a two-year stint serving as the Urban League’s first Dr. Israel Tribble Jr. Distinguished Fellow for Urban School Reform, Ross was appointed superintendent at the Roosevelt schools from 2004 to 2007. Ross left that Long Island job with critics complaining about his reform style and with the school district amassing a budget deficit. Greenburgh Central Schools hired Ross as principal of Woodlands High School in 2009. He was promoted to superintendent of the Greenburgh schools in 2012.
Ross could not be reached for comment.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit – which alleges that Ross and the Greenburgh Board of Education created, ignored and tolerated a hostile work environment – include whites and blacks, men and women, and one English teacher of Muslim descent. The suit can be found here on the Internet: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1151544-greenburgh-schools-lawsuit.html
The 14-page lawsuit provides detail of Ross’ alleged racist and sexist rants, ethnic and religious slurs. The federal lawsuits’ initial plaintiffs include three white females – two social studies teachers and a science teacher; two black males – the principal at Woodlands High School where Ross once served, and a guidance counselor; two black females, the district director of human resources and a guidance counselor; and one Muslim of Jordanian/Arab descent, a woman who is a U.S. citizen and teaches English.
When confronted about his racist/sexist remarks and nicknames for staff, Ross sometimes let it be known that his mother was African-American and that his father was a white, drunken Irishman, according to complaints filed against him.
The lawsuit claims that Ross has been abusive and offensive to many employees, regardless of sex, race and sexual orientation. He’s called many workers – white or black — bitches, and several of them dykes. According to the lawsuit, Ross has referred to Caucasians as white devils, crackers or trailer trash. And he referred to African-American employees as Oreos, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, Clarence Thomas and “a California raisin,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit also slams at least five members of the Greenburgh Board of Education for being ineffective in investigating past and present complaints against Ross.
The school board, which last week appointed Tahira DuPree Chase as interim superintendent, said it attempted, unsuccessfully, to address the issues that led up to the lawsuit. Chase is Greenburgh’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
“This situation has greatly affected the district, our community, but, most importantly, our children,” school board President Lloyd Newland said in a statement released last Tuesday.
Newland was one of the five school board members individually included as a defendant in the federal lawsuit.
“It has eclipsed what really matters to us — the success and academic achievement of our students,’’ Newland said in his statement. “The board has voted to place Mr. Ross on administrative reassignment and will await the outcome of the hearing of the charges filed against him. We can now turn our focus to our children and this school district.”
Jonathan Lovett, a White Plains attorney who filed the federal lawsuit, called the school board’s reaction too little, too late, saying the Board of Education only acted because Ross’ behavior was made public by the complaints.
A public official in Greenburgh, who met with Ross about the allegations last week, said that one of the school superintendent’s earliest and most damaging critics was Sonja Brown. Brown made similar disparaging remarks about fellow trustees when she served on the Greenburgh Town Board, according to the official, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.