School district investigating alleged misconductPublished 8:10am Monday, March 24, 2014
Interim superintendent: We want the best possible employees
Two of three Niles teachers placed on paid administrative leave more than a month ago during an investigation of alleged misconduct with co-workers and alcohol use while on duty still have not been allowed to return to the classroom.
Niles Community Schools officials have declined to release details because the situation remains an ongoing investigation, but the interim superintendent confirmed that — as of March 21 — no disciplinary action or final determination has been made.
Although wide-ranging rumors have circulated through the community for weeks, the first concrete information surfaced after the Niles Daily Star filed a variety of Freedom of Information Act requests regarding the resignation of former superintendent Richard Weigel. The documents were released as part of the FOIA request that used broad language seeking disciplinary letters and correspondence to employees.
However, interim superintendent Kevin Ivers emphasized that the personnel issues are completely unrelated to Weigel’s resignation. Ivers said the district is performing its due diligence to ensure this matter is handled appropriately and responsibly, following the procedures and policies that are in place.
“We want the best possible employees in front of our students,” Ivers said, adding that he feels this was “absolutely” an isolated issue in no way reflective of the district’s entire staff and that students were not impacted in any way. “We do take these situations very serious when we suspect something didn’t get handled appropriately. We want to be sure we investigate thoroughly.”
According to Feb. 13 letters from HR director John Tanke, at least two employees — one male and one female — were placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The letter to the third employee — also a female — was not immediately available, leaving that employee’s status unclear.
The letter to one of the female employees stated: “You are being placed on Paid, Non-Disciplinary, Administrative leave, effective immediately, pending an Investigation conducted by the Human Resources Department into allegations that you have engaged in misconduct with other District employees and drank alcohol on duty.”
The letter to the male employee added the allegation of misusing paid time off.
The employees were directed not to contact each other or witnesses in the case. A second letter to the male employee, dated Feb. 24, stated that a meeting with attorneys would be Feb. 28.
“You have a right to Union representation or personal attorney at this meeting, if you so desire. You are directed to answer all questions posed to you truthfully, fully, and forthrightly, without relying upon semantics to avoid providing an accurate description of your actions or those around you. Should you fail to answer truthfully, fully, and forthrightly, you may be subject to discipline, up to and including discharge,” the letter stated.
“Additionally, earlier you were directed to avoid speaking with (name removed by The Star since no disciplinary action has been taken), either directly or through a third-party. You were further directed to avoid interfering in the investigation. It has come to the District’s attention that you have violated that directive by contacting (name removed by the Star), both directly and through a third-party, and have attempted to intimidate and threaten (name removed) in an attempt to influence (name removed) to make false statements in the investigation. Your actions constitute insubordination, and may form the ground for your discharge. Any further attempts to contact or influence (name removed) will bring about an immediate recommendation for your discharge.”
Ivers said the district’s leadership was aware of the situation before he was hired as interim superintendent and were gathering all the information to address it appropriately.
“The school has gone through a very traumatic experience,” Ivers said about the separation with its superintendent during the school year. “Like I said before, we are focused on moving forward.”