Judge: Teacher documents can’t be released

SAND LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — A Montcalm County judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing the Tri County Area Schools district from releasing documents in the investigations of two former teachers.

Maureen Baker and Jeffrey Ells were suspended in October 2013 as the district investigated allegations of inappropriate use of district equipment. Both teachers resigned before the district could take further disciplinary action.

Thursday, Target 8 obtained both teachers’ separation agreements.

Under the deal reached with the district, Baker, a high school English teacher with more than 20 years of experience, resigned but will be paid her normal salary for the rest of the school year, documents showed.

The separation agreement states that Baker chose to resign “during an investigation into alleged misuse of district technology equipment and allegations that she sent former high school graduates Facebook communications of a sexual nature, on non-work time, using her own personal technology equipment,” school records showed. A handwritten note by Baker in the document states the “employee denies the district’s statement.” Documents show she had good performance reviews during her time with the district.

Ells signed a separation agreement as well, but his was slightly different.

Ells, a high school Science teacher who had been with the district since 2002, will also be paid for the rest of the school year. The district will also continue his insurance coverage, and if another employer asks the district about his departure, documents say “the district will specify that there was no unprofessional conduct and will state on the form that Mr. Ells resigned during an investigation of alleged misuse of district technology, which did not include allegations of impropriety or inappropriate behavior with students, or any criminal activity.”

The district also provided Ells a letter listing his duties and responsibilities since joining the district, and agreed to provide his last two performance reviews, which rated him as an effective teacher.

Both agreements clearly state they’re not admissions of wrongdoing.

However, the documents released Thursday clarify that the teachers chose to resign instead of fighting proposed teacher-tenure charges that could have allowed the district to fire them.

The documents did not say exactly what the teachers did to lead to the allegations of misuse of district technology, and whether the alleged misuse happened on school grounds or during class time, or who else might be involved.

And because the teachers resigned, the school board did not finish the investigation or pursue teacher-tenure charges.

In court Thursday, lawyers for both teachers argued that because the investigation was incomplete, can’t be made public.

Furthermore, they asked the judge to order all documents regarding the investigation and allegations destroyed.

The judge set a hearing for April 15 to consider the matter.

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